Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Zealot Crusader

Total Reviews: 999

Ungaro pour L'Homme III by Ungaro

Ungaro pour L'Homme III (1993) is by far the most modern and well-liked of the Ungaro pour L'Homme Triptych, which includes Ungaro pour L'Homme I (1991) and Ungaro pour L'Homme II (1992) as well. All three fragrances were collaborative efforts between Chanel house perfumer Jacques Polge and then director of research and development for Wertheimer François Demachy, who did so at the behest of Emanuel Ungaro, who had partnered with the Ferragamo Group, whom Wertheimer owned a stake in at the time. Thusly, between the two perfumers re-orchestrating all pre-Wertheimer Ungaro fragrances and working on new ones for other Wertheimer-controlled properties like Tiffany, Bourjois, and Stéphanie de Monaco, they came together here to develop three distinctive Ungaro masculines in series, all sharing some core elements. The tale begins in earnest with the original Ungaro pour L'Homme I, which was released without a number at first until a series was decided upon. This fragrance was a modern twist on a dark rose chypre, superimposing fresh musks and green elements over a Turkish rose, bitter artemisia, indolic jasmine, and patchouli core. This fragrance drove collectors mad upon discontinuation and commands a massive premium. Ungaro pour L'Homme II was less daring, being a then-conventional semi-oriental fougère with throwback elements from the turn of the 20th century, adding civet and a kitchen sink of redolent elements straight out of 19th century Guerlain examples like Jicky (1889), but still having the rose/jasmine/patchouli core. Ungaro pour L'Homme III also has this core, but leans far more futuristic in its application, likely being more of Demachy's doing than Polge. Some may say the sharp air dynamism here presages the creation of his monster, Dior Sauvage (2015), but I won't do a disservice to the name of Ungaro by suggesting that.

The overall structure of Ungaro pour L'Homme III shows an attempt to capitulate to a younger audience, whereas the first two Ungaro pour L'Homme scents were classical exercises with more or less experimentation depending on the entry we're discussing. If Ungaro pour L'Homme I was a flourescent black light, and Ungaro pour L'Homme II a standard incandescent soft white bulb, Ungaro pour L'Homme III is definitely a cold "blue white" LED bulb you'd find in the headlights of modern cars. This opens with a "vodka note" which reads like alcohol to the nose, which is kind of a tongue-in-cheek way of saying your fragrance smells of alcohol upon first spray. After this revelation, the same lavender and citruses as the other two Ungaros come into play, meaning lemon and orange, with clary sage moved up to the top like it was in Ungaro pour L'Homme I, but rounded with coriander. Rose remains the core, but the indolic jasmine is replaced with a cleaner jasmine hedione and muguet note which when mixed with the returning geranium, creates an effect similar to the later Salvador Dali Le Roy Soleil Homme (1998). Floral, metallic, and clean, the beacon of cold white light continues to shine into the base, which is far lighter here than in the others before it. Cedar takes the dominant role, where it was a bit player in the first two Ungaros, and the patchouli is scrubbed of all but the sharp green grassy bits, combined with vetiver, oakmoss, a scrap of sandalwood, and a transparent white musk. Wear time is eight hours, and sillage is still good, but the personality of Ungaro pour L'Homme is decidedly more "dress casual" than the other two, meaning it has more versatility for those who care about when-to-wear. Of the three, Ungaro pour L'Homme III is the only one that feels any bit at all crowd-pleasing, with a fresher rose playing a diminutive role in the overall compositions itself.

I'm guessing Ungaro hit paydirt with this one, because when Wertheimer said to take their ball and go home, Ungaro left the first two Pour L'Homme scents behind to be discontinued and maintained their partnership with Ferragamo Group to produce Ungaro pour L'Homme III albeit under greatly re-orchestrated form, since I'm sure Wertheimer still owned the formula and wouldn't sell it. When Asim Abdullah bought Ungaro from the retired designer in 2005, he sent the fragrance contract over to Avon, which produced some notoriously unloved results (including Avon catalog exclusives bearing the Ungaro name), and further reformulations of Ungaro pour L'Homme III, plus a litany of flankers once Ferragamo Group reclaimed Ungaro for itself from Abdullah in 2010. Eventually seeing discontinuation in 2018, only after the release of a failed Ungaro pour L'Homme III Oud (2017) flanker, the remaining third member of this celebrated men's triptych finally joined its older siblings in the fragrance afterlife. Trying to get the original Polge/Demachy composition might as well be like trying to get the first two pour L'Homme scents though, because it also commands a premium, just less than the I or II. If you go this route, look for a red cap on black bottle or a red box that matches the graphics of the other two green and yellow I and II boxes respectively. Anything all black and gold is the post-Wertheimer re-orchestration and I can't vouch for it because I haven't smelled it. This lighter, fresher, more summery, and slightly boozy take on the primary rose/lavender themes of the Ungaro pour L'Homme series will never be a favorite among collectors, but is the most wearable of the bunch, so I can easily see why it was preserved and continued soldiering on through three corporate takeovers and many reformulations until finally meeting its end. Thumbs up.
25th January, 2021

Ungaro pour L'Homme II by Ungaro

Ungaro pour L'Homme II (1992) is the second of three masculine fragrances created by Wertheimer for Emanuel Ungaro, tapping Chanel house perfumer Jacques Polge and then director of reaseach and development for Wertheimer François Demachy. The first of the three was the aptly-named Ungaro pour L'Homme I (1991), a fragrance that came across like a past-meets-future dandy rose chypre that was both darkly saturnine and contradictingly fresh at the same time. Ungaro pour L'Homme II is the least-celebrated of the three, but also the second most-expensive of the triptych because it was discontinued immediately following Wertheimer's severance with Ungaro, while Ungaro pour L'Homme III (1993) had enough sales to convince Ferragamo Group to re-orchestrate it to the best of their abilities and continue selling it under license like it did Salvatore Ferragamo pour Homme (1999). Ungaro pour L'Homme I contained lavender in a brief appearance as a top note, but Ungaro pour L'Homme II is all about that lavender, presenting itself as a musky turn-of-the-century early fougère exercise similar to Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904), but modernized with Demachy's touch in the slightest of ways according to the standards of the 90's. Civet plays a key role in this, as does patchouli, which also makes Ungaro pour L'Homme II draw some comparison's to Mouchoir de Monsieur's matriarch, Guerlain Jicky (1889), plus a few key others like Caron Pour Un Homme (1934) prior to re-orchestration under the Fraysse family, or Avon for Men (1949) in cologne configuration. There isn't much to say about Ungaro pour L'Homme II as there is the first one, mostly because the hype isn't there, and there was no expectation going in.

The opening is lemon, bergamot, orange, lavender, coriander, neroli, and basil all "skanked up" by that opening touch of civet. The civet in Ungaro pour L'Homme II is not on the fecal levels of potency as it is in classic Jicky or Mouchoir de Monsieur, being more like the modern homage to it like Cartier Déclaration (1998) is to Eau d'Hermès (1951). The civet blends in faster to the composition here than it does in those antique Guerlains, smoothing and warming the lavender, which is then joined by a kitchen sink of florals like jasmine, rose, carnation, and geranium. This ode to Guerlain complexity continues with a touch of soapy orris and sharp black pepper to add that modern "pop" which sets it apart from the dense opacity of the Guerlains. The Chanel/Wertheimer proxy for Guerlinade then comes on, which I guess we could jokingly call "Werthinade" or "Polginade", but it shares some similarities to Chanel pour Monsieur Eau de Toilette Concentrée (1989) and Tiffany for Men (1989), which Polge also developed. Amber, sandalwood, tonka, oakmoss, vanilla, benzoin, cedar, patchouli, you name it, the gang is all here in textbook fashion. Ungaro pour L'Homme II could compete with Aigner Super Fragrance for Men (1978), Creed Bois du Portugal (1987), Nicolaï New-York (1989) or Guerlain's own Héritage (1992) in the semi-oriental dry down department for this reason. Wear time is over 10 hours, with good sillage and projection for half of it, plus wears formally enough for black tie use in cooler months, if you don't mind the throwback musk elements which really make this one challenging in ways Ungaro pour L'Homme I wasn't. I can also see why Ungaro pour L'Homme II doesn't get as much talk, and that's because it's far more conventional despite the larger animalic component, so it doesn't stir up opinions as much.

Exploring Ungaro pour L'Homme II is still an expensive proposition, even if not quite as bad compared to its older brother, and with literally no hype to taint your initial reaction, is easier to get a grasp on with first impressions. I guess sometimes social psychology plays a bigger role in enjoying fragrance than we like to admit, because without the echo chamber of "lost masterpiecers" and "Jesus juicers" building Ungaro pour L'Homme II up to a near-religious experience, combined with the relatively greater availability (albeit still fairly extortionate in pricing) of the stuff in the aftermarket, one can just sorta of go on cruise control when approaching it and let the nose-brain do most of the talking. My nose-brain says that Ungaro pour L'Homme II is even less essential to own than Ungaro pour L'Homme I, because while the first one has a few less-rare but still discontinued alternatives, this one has many readily-available options which can replace it, several of which were contemporary releases to it. While it is true that Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur as also become something of a rare bird (although historically it always has been), Jicky is still a dime a dozen in the gray market if you need your lavender and civet fix, while the dry down of Ungaro pour L'Homme II can be found in pretty much anything I mentioned, all of which are still produced save the Aigner. All in all, the middle brother of this trio of artistic revisionist history exercises in men's perfume is the least interesting one, but also the richest and most complex of the lot, inadvertently being a commentary on the eventual state of luxury perfume in years to follow. Thumbs up.
25th January, 2021

Ungaro pour L'Homme I by Ungaro

Emanuel Ungaro the fashion designer was the son of a tailor who fled Fascist rule by moving to France, a move that turned out not so great after the invasion of France during WWII, with Emanuel himself learning how to sew as a child on a sewing machine he was given. Ungaro's career trajectory then makes sense, although the many partnerships he enjoyed have muddied the success of his house somewhat outside lower-cost ready-to-wear and the short-term successes of the many aborted attempts at a fragrance house done independently, then through everyone from Wertheimer (owners of Chanel), Avon, and finally Ferragamo Group. All along the way, fragrances were launched, then completely re-orchestrated and discontinued or re-launched when new ventures opened then old ones closed, with formula ownership not transferring from old venture to new, making it a very frustrating house to collect due to many short-lived lines that end up selling for a premium as "rare discontinued masterpieces" on eBay. Getting a chance to actually experience Ungaro pour L'Homme I (1991) without a deep investment, I can report my finding without as much bias as you may find from others who first commited to purchase then learned to love it. For starters, this was made under Wertheimer administration, meaning Ungaro had access to house perfumer Jacques Polge and all the various custom materials he has made bespoke for his house. Combined with the fact that he often teamed with a younger François Demachy, who had recently been assigned as director of research and development to handle other Wertheimer brands like Tiffany, Bourjois, Stéphanie de Monaco, Salvatore Ferragamo, plus Emanuel Ungaro, and you can see something of an erstwhile "dream team" being formed here. Sadly, this power duo only really worked on low-key stuff under the Wertheimer umbrella outside of their breadwinner Chanel, and the majority of that output is also discontinued like this fragrance.

Jacques Polge was all about subtle blending, classicism, and immaculate design a la Jacques Guerlain or Vincent Roubert, while François Demachy was all about dynamism, modernism, and experimentation, as evidenced by his controversial works as head perfumer for Dior. Together, they composed what is essentially a dandy rose chypre for men, in a style that had been growing in popularity since the late 80's but contrasting dark opulence with bright futuristic freshness. The opening is dry lavender, bergamot, sharp petitgrain, and pine, feeling pretty solidly "grooming masculine" in feel. With a trick of the tail, you are coated in darkness, with Turkish rose, carnation, bitter artemisia, clary sage, and jasmine indole. The darkness here reminds me of Salvadore Dali pour Homme (1987) and Zino Davidoff (1986), but the indolic depths of those fragrances is countered by a bright metallic geranium, a note Polge would later revisit with Demachy in Chanel Platinum Égoïste (1993), an unlikely collaboration for a house Polge usually worked on by himself at the time. The light shining through the dandified darkness continued into the base, with a fresh salty uplifting ambergris type of musk (likely attained in an early and then-expensive use of synthetic ambroxide, which Creed also used to boost the aroma of real ambergris). This ambergris accord is saddled with oakmoss, sandalwood, benzoin, and amber for a chypre feel, smoothed by a touch of coumarin. Wear time is about eight hours and performance is moderate, with whiffs of that sandalwood and fresh musk carrying the rose core aloft all day. Where you'd use something so artistic is up to you, as this is not mass-appealing in the slightest, although I feel is shares a common tether with scents like Lauder for Men (1985) in that it has an uncommon element that allows it to be a great scent for summer despite the density of it.

Ungaro pour L'Homme originally didn't have the "I" after its name, but became part of a triptych where it acquired the roman numeral, a series that was later discontinued after Wertheimer severed ties to both Emanuel Ungaro and Ferragamo Group, who he partnered with to make perfume. Ungaro pour L'Homme I its two sequels are considered such aforementioned "lost masterpieces" posthumously, and are all highly venerated by enthusiasts of vintage masculine market designers, selling for insane prices when you find unmolested bottles. As mythic unobtanium, it feels more like investing in "perfume futures" stock for later arbitrage than buying a fragrance to wear when seeking out Ungaro pour L'Homme, and ou can imagine the anxiety of spraying something that is literally dollars up in flames with each wear, so luckily I have some alternatives. The previously-named Salvador Dali pour Homme gets close, but what's closer is the little-known Joint by Roccobarocco (1993), adding a bit of vanilla and civet to the futuristic dandy dark metallic rose chypre vibe, which fans of classic styles may actually prefer over the starker Ungaro. Beyond that, GFF Uomo by Gianfranco Ferré (1997) leans further into metallic green tones, but away from the fresh musky base. Overall, Ungaro pour L'Homme I is every bit the wearable art I expected with such swirling hype surrounding it, but also isn't nearly as unique as I was led to believe, and no "Jesus juice" as a friend calls it. There is no harm in loving Ungaro pour L'Homme I enough to consider such, just be aware that it isn't the only one of its kind, although it is worth experiencing even if only via sample. Polge and Demachy work well together, and if nothing else, this scent is proof they should have done more together than they did separately as house perfumers for competing designers. Thumbs up
25th January, 2021
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Jet Homme by Avon

Avon Jet Homme (2009) was a bit of a mix and match kind of scent from past Avon releases in the 2000's, taking a bit from their citrus-forward freshies like Avon RPM (2002) and Avon Peak Zone (2002), mixing it with a bit of their wood-centric fragrances like Avon Prospect (2003) and Avon Signature (2008), then tossing in some incense and fig. I've mentioned before that with so many green-lit fragrances every year during the late 80's into the early 2010's, Avon tended to do iterative refinement of an idea through catalog releases, using the customer as a test subject (and getting paid for it too because they have to buy these things) rather than paid focus group testing or sending drafts of a formula back and forth between the creative director and the perfumer like designers used to before a final formula is agreed upon. This "get'em out by Friday" mentality led to a lot of fragrances being rushed together and smelling like each other, since later scents cannibalized tops or bases of earlier scents, or smelled like an idea presented in an early scent taken in a different direction. Jet Homme showcases such development, seemingly attempting to be the sum of Avon's best "parts" in the 2000's, and I guess it worked because the stuff sold well into the 2010's and got a flanker (in Europe). Frank Voelkl created this one, and he was a pretty frequent flier with Avon in the 2000's, plus just recently came off developing Zirh Ikon (2008), which is why both scents draw some parallels.

From the very start you get a nice juicy bergamot and mandarin orange, very reminiscent of Avon RPM, which itself was a drier more mature take on Clinique Happy for Men (1999). There's basil and a green cardamom here too, but they are very subtle. Avon lists neroli here, and there is something very whisper quiet that could be the soapy citrus floral approximation of neroli, but it is dominated by myrrh and fig leaf, the two elements that make this scent stand apart from most others from the brand. Avon has never really played with fig in a men's scent, and although the fig here is very slight, it's a unique twist to the usual Avon DNA of the period. Beyond that, the base is the usual dry Iso E Super wood notes that were popular then, thanks to the success of Terre d'Hermès, with a pinch of vetiver and the smooth Avon house amber that mixes with some trace musky notes. You'll mostly get the incense, the juicy citrus, the vetiver, and bits of cardamom and fig under it all during a wear, while the whole thing comes and goes from your awareness. Overall, Jet Homme is a clean citrus aromatic near-chypre like experience that feels engaging without being an attention-grabber, meaning I'd use this in an office setting or casual "brain off" affairs during mid-temperature times of year. Performance is about 8 hours which is standard for an eau de toilette (which this is), but projection is non-existent, further enforcing my belief that this makes the perfect unobtrusive office scent bubble for guys that buy from Avon.

The big downer is this got discontinued in all markets but Poland after a few years, so if you can navigate some Polish marketplace sites where Avon ladies traffic, you can still get it, but otherwise, it's gonna be eBay and prices are not as nice there. I still wouldn't call Jet Homme expensive even with the aftermarket premium, because it is Avon after all, and this brand has little to no scalp value to the folks who make bank flipping hyped-up discontinued scents, since any attempt to hype a brand perceived as pedestrian to the point of banal like Avon would be met with laughter by the snobs who fall for hype on discontinued designers being "lost masterpieces". Circling back, Jet Homme was just a sort of "well, that's nice dear" type of scent released at a time when all the fragrances getting attention were crazy sweet, crazy fresh, or just plain crazy, but it does have a level of refinement you'd not believe Avon capable of just a decade beforehand when they struggled to make something that didn't feel dated or downright bizarre. In that way, Jet Homme is a winner, and who doesn't like an easy-wearing citrus aromatic incense fragrance anyway? It's like a vanilla ice cream cone: you'll enjoy it plenty, and there is no lack of quality if the materials are good, but there really isn't anything really memorable about it. Typically I dock points for lack of memorability, and rate neutral, but the blending and citrus backdrop are just so lovely (and I do enjoy RPM for this reason too) that it just wins me over in the end. Thumbs up.
24th January, 2021

Valentino Uomo Born in Roma Yellow Dream by Valentino

Part of me wonders if the marketing department at Valentino really did their homework on the name of this flanker-of-a-flanker Valentino Born in Roma Yellow Dream (2021), a flanker of Valentino Uomo Born in Roma (2019), which itself is a flanker of Valentino Uomo (2014). I could make a bunch of jokes about bed wetting, or make a Frank Zappa reference about not going where the huskies go and not eating the yellow snow, but you've probably already heard that if you spend any time at all in the online fragrance community, especially sites where more trend-conscious fragrance enthusiasts have already ripped this one to shreds in roasting. I'd say this is a roasting well deserved too, as Yellow Dream is not only horribly named, but also derivative to the umpteenth degree and a banal mix of several popular tropes all haphazardly crashed together like a poorly-made tree house. In short, if you've bought anything from designers in the past 5 years since the release of Yellow Dream, you don't need to even smell it. Seriously, you can do better with Zara clones, or even those bizarre bootlegs that come in copies of original bottles and are called things like "Savage" and "Convictus" or whatever. People hated on the Born in Roma flanker too, although I found some redeeming value in it, but not this trash.

The opening is super bubblegum sweet pineapple and ethyl maltol overload with fruity galaxolide musks. In a nutshell, this is Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) meets Coach Platinum (2019), with maybe a bit of Emporio Armani Stronger With You (2017) dropped in. You get something the brand labels as gingerbread here, but barely qualifies as ginger in my books, mixing with some cardamom and ambery tones into a synthetic vanilla tonka and woody aromachemical snoozefest that slaps "amberwoods" and other industry-standard things into some kind of semi-oriental mishmash. When it finishes drying down, Yellow Dream is a sweet tonka with trace fruity musky and vanilla tones. Not harsh, but not good. I have really come to terms with and come to like some modern mass-appeal scents (like the original Invictus), but boy does it get tiresome to smell them continually rehashed so lazily with very little deviation from the source, or spliced together like here in Yellow Dream as to expand the width of the cash grab net being cast. Wear time is about eight hours and projection is through most of it, and this strives to be a sort of jack of all trades like Carolina Herrera Bad Boy (2020), so I guess it's a moderate weather generalist? I don't know. I'm so tired. Fragrances like these weigh on my soul. Ask someone else for advice on this one.

I thought Jimmy Choo Urban Hero (2019) was just about the worst designer Invictus clone out there, and wrote a similarly vitriolic review on it, but the biggest problem I had with it was just how boring and middling of a clone it was. Here, we take that same boring and middling Invictus clone, then say "hold my beer" and stuff in a whole bunch of contrived elements like the candied pineapple, the psuedo-ginger, the car freshener vanilla, then pour it into a version of the studded Valentino Uomo Born in Roma bottle that looks like it's filled with urine or apple juice. I'll let you glass half-empty and half-full types argue over which one it is. The perfumer is unlisted for this fragrance, and if I made this, I'd be so ashamed of myself I wouldn't want my name associated with it either. I mean sure, the perfumer probably had a painfully specific brief and a budget, but Avon still exists and does better on less. Bottom line here is if you like modern compliment getters, even samey ones that all follow a similar creative path, that's great! I have a whole bunch of really easy-wearing blue fragrances I can suggest that won't break the bank and smell both different from each other and interesting enough to keep you from falling asleep, but absolutely zero yellow ones come to mind. Is this discontinued yet? It needs to be. Thumbs down.
21st January, 2021

Lacoste (original) by Lacoste

It may be difficult to imagine now, but Lacoste (1984) was once a cutting-edge sport fragrance, even if today it may seem extremely simple and inadequate in performance for most people. You see, when the brand Lacoste reached out to Jean Patou to help them create a scent that matched the purpose of their high-end sportswear, it not only gave then house perfumer Jean Kerleo his first assignment, but also helped establish the very concept of a sport fragrance. That original Lacoste by Jean Patou (1967) and its fresher follow-up Lacoste Eau de Sport (1968) would give guys the notion that a special fragrance made to be lightweight and not cloying was the way to go for an active lifestyle. This became the standard for sport fragrances through the 70's and 80's until the ostentatious freshness of the aquatic took over as the de-factor "sport smell". Meanwhile, Lacoste spun off into its own fragrance brand, with Jean Kerleo continuing to compose for them until Patou offloaded the license to P&G Prestige in 1998, himself making Lacoste Booster (1996) just after his final Patou fragrance. Lacoste '84 was essentially a re-orchestration of the original Lacoste by Jean Patou to be simpler, cleaner, and without any floral or animalic traces, but is still a chypre at its core.

The opening of Lacoste '84 (or Lacoste Original and even just "Lacoste") is bog standard citrus chypre with menthol tackedn for coolness, with a lot of clary sage right up front that never goes away and is eventually joined by clove in the heart. A lot of florals are listed in published note pyramids, but all I really get is this sage, plus basil and a bit of geranium until that clove comes up, very much like Jacomo Anthracite pour l'Homme (1991) but lighter and less fussy. Beyond that, you get oakmoss, sandalwood, a bit of tonka for smoothness, and some of that menthol returning to mix with the sage. When people warn you this fades in two hours, believe them, since it comes on nice and effervescent for thirty minutes, then becomes a quiet bubble for 2 hours, and a skin scent for 6. The whole point of Lacoste (and all sport scents from the era) was to be airy and unobstructive, as a fresh tonic after physical exertion, not a statement about your sexual prowess via suggested fit lifestyles like modern sport scents. Best use is after a shower, or maybe to bed when all you need is a few hours, and in the dead heat of summer when you're outside and all but the lightest scents will swelter on you. In a sense, sport scents like this were really then-modern interpretations of the original eau de cologne, at least in spirit purpose.

Is Lacoste 84 good? Well I guess it is, or at least I like it because I enjoy simple and fundamental fragrances like this. If you're wanting a bold "wearable art" statement as most collectors seem to view discontinued vintages like this one, look elsewhere because this is a scent that has very little to actually say. Just like with American Crew Classic Fragrance (2000), Lacoste is all about clary sage until it's all about almost nothing but its own base (which is chypre in this case), so I'm willing to rock out with it. Reformulations of this when P&G took over gut most of the oakmoss out and all of the sandalwood, so you do not want anything made before 1998 (or anything P&G Prestige) if you're wanting that plonk of sandalwood intact (sage still dominates either way). Kerleo was willing to bookend his legendary career at Patou with comparatively ignoble Lacoste fragrances, so I guess that means something to his affinity for simple fresh chypres, but there really is nothing to get excited about despite the historical pedigree afforded here, unless you're just a big fan of bottles with crocodiles on them. Definitely worth a sample or at most a 1oz/30ml bottle blind buy, since those are cheapest and most plentiful, but sometimes not making them like they used isn't a bad thing. Thumbs up.
21st January, 2021

31 rue Cambon Eau de Toilette by Chanel

Chanel 31 rue Cambon Eau de Toilette (2007) was part of the original 6 Les Exclusifs scents launched in eau de toilette by Chanel when they decided to enter the luxury/prestige/niche market. 31 rue Cambon is named after the original Chanel couture workshop, and is an original composition rather than a retooling of an Ernest Beaux composition from Chanel's early years (unlike some of the others in this initial collection of 6), but still exists in a classic floral chypre style that makes it feel far older than it may seem at first glance. What perhaps makes this unique among a plethora of similarly-styled mid-century floral chypres made across all market levels for decades is the inclusion of a black pepper opening in place of the usual blooming Chanel aldehydes, but that isn't enough to really call this a modernized or updated take on the chypre. I think what this is, at least for me, is a strange and artistic twist on a classic and otherwise slightly boring study in traditional perfumery, which may really make or break it in your eyes depending on where you sit with perfumers toying around with convention.

Black pepper isn't super apparent upon the initial spray of 31 rue Cambon Eau de Toilette, but it creeps up as bergamot, a mix of indolic jasmine, Damask rose, and ylang-ylang greet the nose. As with most academic floral chypres, the flowers take over for the citrus when the opening moments elapse, but this is around the time when the black pepper first assirts itself in the composition. Iris and a light patchouli come in later to make 31 rue Cambon more powdery fresh amd green, while labdanum, oakmoss, and a tiny bit of the Polge sandalwood note build out the woody chypre finish. By the end, the pepper is screaming over top of the chypre structure, which gives it an odd cold unfeeling nature that is the only real bit of perceived modernity in it, although not on the same levels of cold as the "boss bitch" Chanel Cristalle (1974) by the previous house perfumer Henri Robert. The original eau de toilettes are often cited as stronger than their EdP replacements, but I don't read much strength here in 31 rue Cambon, giving about 7 hours of wear at just medium projection, with most of that being from the pepper woody iris backbone. Best use is in casual situations for spring, summer, and early fall.

The next big question is, get this discontinued EdT or the newer EdP that replaced it? Well, usually I'd say the bite of real oakmoss in pre-2011 examples makes chypres better, or even before 2002 when there were no restrictions on the material whatsoever, but this is so light and so totally not about the oakmoss at all in the finish thanks to that dominant pepper and iris, that I think you might be okay with current EdP. On the bright side, it's likely to last longer even if sitting closer on the skin, but there are bound to be those who feel everything older is inarguably better than anything newer, so I'll let you decide into which rabbithole to toss your money. Either way, you're looking at a stiff retail price tag of several hundred dollars, or several hundred more for a rare vintage, so 31 rue Cambon is an expensive trip for the die-hard Chanel fans only. Chypre lovers will be glad to see Chanel can still make a decent example of the genre into the 21st century, but the Calvanist-level purists worshiping the old dames like Guerlain Mitsouko (1919) will find this an adulteration and are better off sticking to vintage specimens of Chanel No. 5 (1921) or Bois des Îles Parfum (1926). Thumbs up
20th January, 2021

The Visionary by Gap

The Gap has made in-store exclusive fragrance for quite some time, and like many mall chain boutiques that do, they can be here today and gone tomorrow. However, unlike Victoria's Secret, The Express, or Zara, The Gap at least seems to try putting more artistic effort into what they stuff near the checkout lines, even if the materials quality is still mostly paper thin. The Gap introduced a 5-piece series of unisex fragrances called Gap Individuals, each named after an defining a type of individual, even if that seems silly coming from a brand that used to have uniformly-dressed dancers in its TV ads. This particular scent is The Visionary (2007), and tends to get the most talk of the five. The spray head of each one was a different color, although with the metallic cap on, you'd not know that immediately into going to use them, meaning this is one time a capless tester may look better in a displayed collection. More on that little tidbit later, but in addition to the themes of each bottle, there is a three-note focus that feels artistic in its simplicity, almost like many niche brands employ with their rose and this, sandalwood and that, like Jo Malone.

The focus of The Visionary is geranium, fennel, and caraway, but there is more going on here than them. The opening has that 2000's ozonic rush like Chanel Coco Mademoiselle (2002) or Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce (2006). Unlike them, this ozonic sharpness is not paired with fruit in The Visionary, but rather geranium. The geranium on display here is rather floral like the later Diptyque Geranium Oderata (2014), and not at all metallic like one may be used to in something such as Creed Himalaya (2002) or Paco Rabanne XS pour Homme (1994). This may be because that geranium is really just pure geraniol at the end of the day, since materials here are super cheap. Fennel and caraway come in before long, offering a green "spice rack" feel which comes to define The Visionary outside that florid ozonic geranium note, resting on an unmentioned bed of Iso E Super and vetiver that gets inexplicably powdery late in the wear. Performance leaves something to be desired, coming across like an eau de cologne with 30 minutes of push then six hours of quiet sillage, plus that late stage powdery feel comes across incongruent with the rest. The Visionary is unisex, casual, plus easy to wear otherwise. Best use would be in summer or spring, outdoors or after a hot shower, perhaps as a shared scent between romance partners even?

Something like this repackaged with better materials, performance, and presentation could sell for about five times what this sold for in stores originally, and since it is discontinued, sells for more than it is worth unless you're okay with the uncapped testers I mentioned earlier, since they seem to have flooded discounters at some point and cost less than a value meal at McDonald's. Since having no cap shows off the cool colored spray heads of each bottle, perhaps this is for the best, and at these prices you could very well just load up on backups then spray to your heart's content to mitigate the performance woes. I'm usually on board with geranium presented in a floral way, but The Visionary just sort of smells like the filler used to pad out the formula of cheap rose perfumes, spliced with the top notes of Fierce, then watered down to an eau de cologne. The concept is cool and very "niche-like" in it's thematic and note subject focus, but the dime store execution of the juice itself makes The Visionary feel more like The Daydreamer, with the same relative forgettable nature as most fragrance efforts put forth by The Gap both prior to and after this went away from that front checkout shelf. Neutral.
18th January, 2021

Chrome by Azzaro

Azzaro Chrome (1996) is the best-selling Azzaro masculine fragrance of all time, even if the original Azzaro pour Homme (1978) holds the title of best-seller in Europe, and is arguably far more iconic from a historical perspective. Azzaro Chrome was also just the right kind of fragrance to revive interest in the brand from young men in the 90's, who shrugged off Azzaro pour Homme as dated along with its original intense flanker released in 1992. The extremely artful and genderbendy Azzaro Acteur (1989) was also a commercial disaster, despite being a low-key masterpiece of jammy Turkish rose and leather chypre that would only be appreciated by collectors decades after it's arrival, so Azzaro had nothing relevant to offer until Chrome came along. The secret here was to deliver clean and fresh modernity with a heavy amount of synthetic abstraction as was fashionable in the 90's, and to deliver it without the heavy-handed wall of sillage that 70's and 80's fragrances became notorious for to the youth of the day, but also to be strong enough to stand out amidst dozens of competitors trying to do the same thing. Enter one Gerard Haury, a perfumer who worked with Harrmann & Reimer (now Symrise) and who was a master perfumer often going uncredited, no doubt because he likely worked for a lot of large-scale ignominious clients like then Azzaro owner Clarins, who probably had him perfume most of their many costmetic lines. Gerard is only known for Chrome, and being the father of Raphael Haury, who also did work for Clarins and Azzaro. His work in Chrome is deceptively simple at first glance, especially since everyone from Avon to Xerjoff abuses his techniques here, but leads to a comfortable clean that isn't your average blue fragrance.

In some ways, Gerard couldn't have picked a better fragrance to be his sole credit, as Chrome is quite literally the epitome of white linen shirt fragrances for men. The basic theme of Azzaro Chrome is as an aquatic white floral woody musk, crossing the streams between scents like the original Nautica (1992), Calvin Klein cK One (1994), and Bulgari pour Homme (1995). Chrome is also more of a men's floral fragrance than it lets on, which is kinda fun. The opening is fresh, clean and uplifting with neroli, lemon, rosemary, aquatic notes, and a huge dose of benzyl acetates for a massive synthetic floral rush. The latter is rather common in most floral fragrance now, and often gets cited as such by people who have knowledge of perfumery, but back when Chrome came out, cranking it up this high as a top note was uncommon in a Western man's fragrance. Similarities to ck One abound as another smash of hedione joins these acetates in the heart, pushed and pulled around by lucid notes of jasmine and a very light cyclamen joined by a dusty coriander. Chrome deviates from cK One and Bvlgari pour Homme in that it doesn't rely just on white musks and an ethereal tea note, but moves into that ultimate "white shirt" territory with green cardamom and the crispness of a wood note with a sliver of oakmoss, which when pressed against those clean laundry musks give the impression of washed linens starched after drying. Azzaro lists rosewood, sandalwood, and cedar as the wood notes responsible, but it's all too synthetic to really be sure, although I can recognize the tonka which lends that tea-like leafy hay facet. Wear time is good enough for a work day at over eight hours, with earlier bottles having marginally better projection thanks to real oakmoss, while later bottles rely on evernyl and fall a bit flatter sooner, like newer bottles of Azzaro pour Homme. Best use is pretty much year around.

Azzaro Chrome is perfectly well-composed, but also perhaps perfectly boring, as are many top-sellers from the "beige age" that is the 1990's for men's fragrance. What really separates Chrome from the competition is that bite in the base mixed with the massive clean floral rush in the top, as dozens of masculine scents had huge doses of linalool and limonene, dihydromyrcenol, and other clean shiny synthetics by that point thanks to pioneers like Calvin Klein and Davidoff, but not really a massive floral push. Chrome would end up with both a ton of flankers (just like Azzaro pour Homme) and a ton of use, but one thing it got that Azzaro pour Homme didn't is placement in just about every store that sells fragrance from Macy's to Wal-Mart. This extra push of ubiquity does patina the "chrome" of the scent's prestige in ways that Azzaro pour Homme has not had to suffer in the public eye, but like with Liz Claibrone Curve for Men (1996), that hasn't seemed to have tarnished people's disposition towards it outside the sometimes "over-scrupled" online fragrance community. Honestly, if you're getting poo-pooed by snobs that claim your fragrance sucks because too many people like it (and therefore must be only for "common" undeveloped tastes), you're likely doing something more right than you realize. My only bone to pick with Chrome is the sometimes itchy powderiness it leaves behind late in the drydown, something it shares with Versace Blue Jeans (1994), but both fragrances seem to have toned that down in later formulations so it's a non-issue for me now. In short, Azzaro Chrome may not be very exciting or unique, but when you just want to smell good and not fuss about it, you can't go wrong. Thumbs up.
18th January, 2021

1740 Marquis de Sade by Histoires de Parfums

When you name a fragrance after the man from which the words "sadism" and "sadist" are derived, you're making a clear statement. 1740 Marquis de Sade (2008) is most certainly a statement, and a very strong, controversial one at that. Compared to some others from the house I've smelled that don't quite paint their historical target appropriately, 1740 Marquis de Sade is a dead-ringer for a perfume modeled after the infamous French figure known for spending more time in prison than out during his life, due to his notorious sexual predilections and how vocal he was about their advocacy. I won't really go down the rabbithole of whether he was a misunderstood revolutionary or psychopath with a noble title that kept him from otherwise being executed, but as a perfume depicting a man in and out of prison his whole life for his carnal urges, this is a fascinating composition. To be clear, this is a not a perfume you can "appropriately" wear anywhere, and for those who want a niche fragrance that lives up to every bit of the definition, look no further. This is "classic niche perfumery" if there ever was such a thing, being challenging, attention-grabbing, for the connoisseurs only, and fully thematic. 1740 Marquis de Sade is what everyone thought niche perfume was before they discovered it's really just designer perfume from the mid/late 20th century re-dressed with modern materials and deluxe packaging, and what indie/artisanal perfume for all intents and purposes became, to fill the role of being truly "niche" by design. However, this is a "be careful what you wish for" scenario in that regard too, as this is so "niche" it hurts.

The opening of 1740 Marquis de Sade is a punch to the face of davana, surfing on a wave of powdery handbag style leather and bergamot, probably with some aldehydes in tow. This attack on the senses is bewildering at first and you might have a knee-jerk reaction to it if not prepared. Davana is an oil that comes from a specific member of the artemisia pallens family, but different from the bitter artemisia, or mugwort/armoise members of the same family in that it has lactonic fruity qualities like osmanthus and musky indolic tones like ylang-ylang that mix with a sort of bitter powderiness from the artemisia, and is overdosed here to that effect. This powdery funky muskiness is met with patchouli and spices of coriander and cardamom halfway into the dry down, pronouncing the leather facets of the rather complex davana further. Birch smoke and pasty labdanum mix with elemi resin and immortelle, which when combined make an animalic aroma, like skin on skin, lightly washed with vanilla and cedar but not sweaty quite so much, meeting with a castoreum leather note that adds a bit of dry warmth to the whole. When 1740 settles on skin, it feels a bit like the "Guerlinade" underpinning Shalimar (1925) from a twisted, dark parallel dimension, where it is devoid of the almost gourmand delectability found in the actual "Guerlinade" in perfumes such as Habit Rouge (1965). Instead, this yumminess is replaced with a sexual raunch that slithers and belches smoke like a dragon through the resinous powdery leather whole. You feel "wrong" wearing 1740, but also are drawn to it in ways you don't want to admit, and that's likely the appeal. Wear time is until you sandblast it off skin, and I won't mention projection, just use with caution wherever and whenever you deem fit. I do like 1740, but holy moly even a small bottle would be a lifetime supply for me with how much I'd dare use it.

Among all of Histoires de Parfums original "historical" creations from the 2000's, 1740 Marquis de Sade gets the most talk because it naturally turns the most heads. 1725 Cassanova (2001) is viewed by some as the polar opposite to this, a romantic exercise that places lavender, vanilla, and powdery notes into a sensual comforting hug with kisses on the back of the neck. Here in 1740 Marquis de Sade, those hugs transform into rancorous grips on your waist, lewd thrusts, and chewing on the earlobe from behind. I smell the same tones found in Michael for Men by Michael Kors (2001) and Keith Urban Phoenix (2011) way late in the wear of Marquis de Sade, but amped up to ten times the strength of what they are in those commercial releases. I can't identify what they are exactly, so if you've smelled those scents, you may know something of what the skin feel is like on 1740. All told, this must be the most divisive and argued-about release in the Histoires de Parfums catalog, their attempt at a modern niche YSL Kouros (1981) but with none of the sweaty soapiness that at least makes Kouros get a hall pass out in public. Even if you're not a hedonist that enjoys massive orgies or bacchanals that last a fortnight, 1740 Marquis de Sade is a perfume that can put you in the headspace of someone who does, and is basically liquid libertine. As I understand it, older batches were even stronger than current bottles are now, but I can't tell you if I've smelled original or reformulated versions since I'm working from a decant. If this is the reformulated juice, I'm almost afraid of what a 2008 bottle smells like, so ether way you're in for a true "niche" experience. Thumbs up.
18th January, 2021

1828 Jules Verne by Histoires de Parfums

Have you ever come across a fragrance that you want to like, but just can't because of one thing? 1828 Jules Verne by Histoires de Parfums (2001) is one such fragrance for me. 1828 seemingly does everything right from the onset, being a fragrance inspired by the famed adventure fiction novelist of the 19th century, mixing marine and citric freshness with a woody aromatic background, and being a "marine breeze over a wild heath" to paraphrase the market copy. Indeed, this perfume must have been amazing in 2001, combining the popular marine themes in the mainstream masculine fragrance market at the time with a deeper aromatic twist that would be bound to please fans of the richer garrigue masculinity found in fragrances from the 70's and 80's, but in now it just smells a bit too plain for its price tag. For me, this is caused by the inclusion of either a single material, or single accord made from materials that are now nearly universally featured in many high-end floral fresh musk fragrances, that while likely not cheap, are so common as to be expected now, but smell okay in their relevant context. When you start mixing this ubiquitous "luxury fresh floral musk soap" note with more burly green notes and woods like pine, and it sends confused signals to my brain that makes me go "no please", even if at the time this came out it may have been a novel combination. Context changes everything in time, but let me explain.

The opening of 1828 Jules Verne is initially very nice, coming out of the gate with a dry pencil shavings pine note similar to Pino Silvestri (1955) or Acqua di Selva by Victor (1949), surrounded by slightly more-modern citrus aquatic cocktails. There is a nice minty eucalyptus note here joined by grapefruit and orange, tangerine and a big hedione lift into the heart. The hedione here is very reminiscent of fragrances like Dior Eau Sauvage (1966) without the jasmine flavor or 1881 pour Homme by Nino Cerruti (1990) without the rose, so you get a creamy white floral clean but without any identifying flowers to give it form. This is mistake one for me, because this "nondescript florality" (not a word but bear with me) rubs me of Calvin Klein cK One (1994), which is nice at $30 but not at $200+. Nutmeg supplies dustiness to the floral feel in the heart, while a bit of black pepper counterbalanced the eucalyptus. The dihydromyrcenol aquatic note is here too in small degrees, but this is no Cool Water (1988). The base is where mistake two occurs, as a very fluffy white musk like I've seen Annick Goutal, Xerjoff, and House of Sillage use a million times shows up here, but in the context of those other houses blends well with the florals, but here with the pine and citrus, clashes and dominates the aromatics. Some late stage Iso E Super "cedar" woods, vetiver, and some form of incense note (likely timberol) join this fluffy clean musk, but it takes over everything. Wear time is 10+ hours with moderate sillage, and this feels like it could be a year-round signature for someone.

So for me, the big deal breaker is that 90's unisex hedione "grayness" found in now-discounted surviving examples of the unisex craze mixed with the 2010's luxury floral soap musk used in $300+ examples as a way to pad out performance on a dime but avoid smelling like it is. In other words, this smells like a modern niche fragrance where shortcuts were made to enhance performance, but without the benefit of being a modern niche fragrance where those bare seams are more cleverly hidden in redolent top and heart notes, since we're talking early 2000's where niche houses were very much still in experimental mode. For this reason, I can't totally flunk out 1828 Jules Verne, since it's not trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, but I also don't fully enjoy how this thing is constructed. I enjoy the fluffy white musk bits in a fragrance that's built around them, but not when they are juxtaposed against citrus and green aromatics like this, giving 1828 a weird ghostly sweet richness it doesn't feel like it should have. Likewise, that huge hedione lift is right at home in something like the aforementioned cK One or even Acqua di Giò pour Homme by Giorgio Armani (1996), but here just kill the magic of a scent trying to evoke a famous author from the 1800's. You could have shoved this in a Guerlain Aqua Allegoria bottle with reduced performance and I would have gone "okay sure", but here as 1828 Jules Verne, I feel misled smelling this. Neutral
18th January, 2021

Ricci Club by Nina Ricci

Ricci Club by Nina Ricci (1989) is an early example of a men's tobacco style that would become popular into the 90's and 2000's, adding a bit of green citrus herbal/floral chypre feel carried over from the mid-80's to the genre that others made in its wake would avoid as that style faded from mainstream favor. Perhaps this old-school nod to traditional French perfumery is what doomed the otherwise ahead-of-its-time Ricci Club to discontinuation in later years (it died sometime in the late 2000's), but on the other hand, so many fragrances would end up doing the dry down of this scent equally as good if not better that it's easy to see it getting lost in the shuffle. This is especially true once you start considering the Nina Ricci house itself did not have the best luck with the male perfume buyer into the 2000's, having not even bothered to make a new masculine since Mémoire d'Homme (2002) failed to make a dent, another scent which is also discontinued. Like Balenciaga and Escada, it would seem what remains of the Ricci operation has completely abandoned catering to men, which when looking at the competition, may be for the best. Sadly, this one has also long since "gone unicorn" in the second-hand market, so getting to smell what I'm talking about is difficult, although I could also see Ricci Club doing well as a niche fragrance knowing its relative unorthodoxy suits that market. I enjoy the smell of Ricci Club, but it touches too many familiar corners of my mind to ever be a favorite, just barely eking out approval.

The opening of this is going to be your typical citrus herbs and white florals blast of bergamot, lemon, dry lavender, galbanum, and some bitter artemisia. If you're a fan of the way artemisia is treated in classics like Chevalier d'Orsay (1911), you'll pretty much be at home here, but things don't stay in that turn-of-the-century lane for long, as the florals come pouring into the heart. Rose, jasmine, carnation, muguet, and dusty spice remind me both of Lauder for Men (1985) and later niche fragrances like Parfums de Marly Lippizan (2010), creating a bit of a fussy dandy feel in the process. A floral tobacco note very similar to the later Versace The Dreamer (1997) and Frapin l'Humaniste (2009) is what marks Ricci Club as an early pioneer in the modern tobacco style, with some ambery light oriental tones like Baldessarini Cologne (2002) also showing up to sweeten things a bit. Vanilla, patchouli, more spice and woody touches, then "tonkabacco" sweetness appear decades before Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille (2007) made it a smash. That herbal chypre dandy floral feel is what "dates" this in most eyes of modern tobacco fans, but also why vintage enthusiasts love it. A bit of old, and a bit of what was then new, that's Ricci Club. Once more, this would be easy fodder for a niche house to release now. Performance isn't amazing, but you'll get 7 hours of detectable sillage with projection for the first hour. Best use for Ricci Club casual or office wear in temperate seasons if you spring for it, especially if you're able to get things like the aforementioned Frapin or Parfums de Marly at retail prices. Ricci Club is every bit as "quality" as them for the money, in any case, but if you already own them, you won't really see need for this.

Back in the day, this stuff came in all kinds of formats from aftershave (with and without menthol), balm, shampoo, deodorant sticks and aerosols, soap, you name it, telling me Nina Ricci went all in on trying to make Ricci Club a signature scent for men who shopped the brand. Most of that accessory stuff is now also pretty overpriced too, but at one point must have been the go-to grooming solution for at least a few guys, since so much of it seems to still exist despite the price (guess nobody is biting). I came across my bottle as a tester donated by a store owner I am friends with, so I'm able to approach reviewing this without the bias of having spent a ton of money just to experience it. I'm able to confidently say that this stuff is good, and definitely as must-try for tobacco fans if it was sold around $30-$50 like most of the things (save the niche items) I compared it to, but at an extra zero on the price, is total bunko. Ricci as a house in general tends to go for big bucks where all its discontinued masculines are concerned, as it has that "dead house" appeal just like all the aforementioned Balenciaga and Escada masculines those houses sent to the grave under new management. Ricci Club is a fresh green floral tobacco scent that represents an unconventional whole spliced from conventional parts, straddling an ambiguous line between the gloriously overwrought perfumes of the late 80's and paired-down futuristic freshies of the 90's. This is something many long-gone masculines made on the cusp of that tectonic stylistic shift also did, which is why they're gone and perhaps better remembered than regularly enjoyed. Thumbs up
17th January, 2021

Tabac Blond by Caron

Caron Tabac Blond (1919) is easily the stuff of legend among collectors and worshipers of "the old guard" in perfume: The Guerlains, the Carons, the Houbigants; the early Cotys, Ardens, Danas, Myrugias, Lanvins and Chanels; the golden-era perfume names like Schiaparelli and LeLong that didn't survive into the current day and are only spoken about or traded between the deepest pockets and most committed of vintage enthusiasts. For all intents and purposes, a fragrance like Tabac Blond is extinct in the consciousness of the greater fragrance buying public, but the perfumers who still serve that public whisper its name like godhead between themselves and endlessly cite it as part of their education or inspiration for their modern works worlds apart from it in every way but the medium. Caron itself has had mixed success staying alive (let alone relevant) in the century or so since this fragrance launched, and among the original works by house founder Ernest Daltroff, Tabac Blond is the best fragrance of his that you just cannot feasibly buy. Part of that is likely the materials used, although at least up until the 70's most of what went into this perfume remained in it, and part of that is also just a lack of care in preserving legacy on the part of the various owners who have come and gone from Caron. Like most Daltroff compositions, Tabac Blond is built on "broad stroke" principles, with a few standout materials supported by minor players, all blended and blurred together until they vanish into a dance of big bold accords that take turns making their presence felt, but also collapse into each other making a "whole". This technique is pretty opposite to the endlessly filigreed method rival Jacques Guerlain used, placing a kitchen sink of materials and sometimes entire complete perfumes into other perfumes (a la "Guerlinade" to make something impossible to pick apart.

Tabac Blond was made as a "smoker's perfume" when launched in 1919, because at that time, smoking filter cigarettes (usually unfiltered cigarettes on long plastic filter stems) was considered a fashion statement for women. Naturally, the perfume had to be able to appropriately mask and blend with the smell of burned tobacco, accumulated nicotine and tar in hair or clothes, and still smell good. Tabac Blond was Daltroff's answer to this need, since other early chypres, fougères, florals, and orientals of the day were decidedly not focused on that, so they either clashed with the smoke or died within it. The structure of Tabac Blond is at its simplest a near-fougère, containing everything but lavender from a proper fougère accord, but it's really more abstract than that. The opening contains notes later perfumes would have in their bases, like an early use of coumarin to simulate tobacco, since tonka was used to flavor cured tobacco (and the note is still used to this day to simulate tobacco in modern fragrances). A carnation/clove-backed leather note (based on eugenol) also joins a lovely linden blossom note in the top, with a puff of aldehyde. The heart gets a bit creamier and more floral, with ylang-ylang providing musky indoles along with powdery iris and smokey vetiver. That last note is likely there on purpose to help convey the tobacco "smoke". Base notes are also of the bygone-era type, with sandalwood, breathy ambergris, oakmoss, and patchouli rounded by vanillin, then a new aromachemical toy (created by Haarmann & Reimer, now a part of Symrise). The overall effect is sweet, dusty, a bit spicy, and profound yet quiet; an assertive but soft-spoken confidence with all-day wear. Best use for those lucky enough to own Tabac Blond is as a precious special-occasion scent, but in a perfect world, likely a postmodernist signature that reads unisex to my nose.

Tabac Blond inspired Habanita by Myrugia (1921), and perhaps to an extent Knize Ten (1924), which when combined with early "Cuir de Russie" fragrances, in turn later inspired orientals like Dana Tabu (1932), Shulton Early American Old Spice/Old Spice (1937), then leathers like Piguet Bandit (1944) and MEM English Leather, finally leading to the modern aldehyde leather and/or tobacco oriental/chypre genres that gave us Tabac by Mäurer & Wirtz (1959) and Grès Cabochard (1959). Smelling Tabac Blond in it's pre-revival form, you can even see echos of it in cheap "plebian" men's colognes or aftershaves of the 60's and 70's like Avon Bravo (1969) and Swank Royal Copenhagen (1970), meaning it would take quite some time for the impact of this prewar ultra high-end perfume for socialite smokers to finally trickle out of the common DNA of Western fragrance design. Yet, a modern nose might find something like Tabac Blond overly floral, powdery, or cloying for something meant to be a cover-up for tobacco smoke, especially since tobacco fragrances have gotten increasingly rich with overdoses of tonka and other sugary materials a la Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008). Still, the bloodlines are there, and there is an undeniable gorgeousness of design that belies the "butch" appeal this fragrance may have had with flappers of the roaring 20's. In conclusion, Caron Tabac Blond is indeed every bit the masterpiece its remaining fans claim it to be, deserving the praise heaped upon it by writers of perfume reference guides and trusted personalities within influential online taste spheres. Even if this stuff were somehow in production and attainable at prices a bit more down-to-earth, I don't know if I'd be up to the task of actually pulling it off, but that's okay. Maybe I'll grow into a person fit to smell of (let alone afford) Tabac Blond. Thumbs up.
17th January, 2021
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Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (1971) is claimed to be the greatest floral aldehyde perfume of all time by esteemed critic Luca Turin, and was deemed so important by Tom Ford in 2003 that he went through great pains having it reformulated by 2 perfumers (including the son of an original perfumer), in order to maintain its integrity without precious natural ingredients that could no longer be feasibly used. To place such value on a fragrance says a lot about it before ever sniffing the sprayer, so what's really happening on the original "left bank" of the late Mr. Laurent? Well for starters, this was made to christen the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique, opened on the left bank in Paris, originally being composed by both Michael Hy and a young Jacques Polge back when Parfums Chanel was still under stewardship of Henri Robert. Indeed, while Robert was making the final signature perfume for Gabrielle Coco Chanel in the form of Chanel No. 19 (1971), Polge & Hy were creating this "griffe" masterpiece for YSL, meant to be an eye-catching accessory to the "prêt-à-porter" collection of the same name aimed at young women. Today, the cold and metallic aldehydes and dry soapiness of Rive Gauche come across old-fashioned and grandma-ish to the noses of women used to sweet "fruitchouli" and watercolor fruity floral perfumes, but back in 1971 when this was released to the public (a year after being exclusive to the Paris boutique), this was a daringly youthful perfume in strict contrast to the powdery florals, green leathers, or thick oriental patchouli fragrances worn by gals in the 40's, 50's, and early 60's.

In a way, this was a continuation of what Yves Saint Laurent started with Y (1964), infusing inspiration from Paco Rabanne Calandre (1969) and Fidji by Guy Laroche (1966) before it. Also, if we want to include the blue collar perfume champions Avon in the conversation, we can say Charisma (1970) also presaged this by some degree, with a similar soapy aldehyde rose countenance, just minus the coldness and adding some civet musk. The introduction to Rive Gauche is really just ravishing grimness in the form of those freezing aldehydes, like an iced peach lactone with stiff bergamot sprayed from an upside-down air duster. Green galbanum leads the way into rose and jasmine savon with muguet, musky indolic ylang-ylang, and cool orris. Fans of cold iris perfumes such as Lutens Iris Silver Mist (1994) owe existence of such perfumes to Rive Gauche. The base comes on with a plonk of quality Mysore in vintage, but something else taking up the slack of the missing precious wood in 2003 bottles and beyond, but the difference is less exaggerated than lovers of the vintage would extol, although I understand they'll see differences thrice as much. Lighter woody aromachemicals do leave other notes to come up more in the modern version, but they're also there in vintage, just squished down a bit by the sandalwood. These include oakmoss (or evernyl in modern), a sliver of tonka, vetiver, and a dry amber. Rive Gauche wears very clean, and very "chypre", lasting for hours on skin with a slight bitterness and late-stage powdery "boss Bitch" feel that makes this perfect for the Miranda Priestly in everyone. Best use is work, social events, and day wear through all but the winter months.

I'd personally call something this cold and sharp unisex, but like with younger women, a lot of younger guys are going to wrinkle their nose at the total lack of sweetness and roundness this perfume presents. Even when Tom Ford had Daniela Andrier and Jacques Hy (son of Michael) extensively "repair" this in reformulation, he knew that the life of Rive Gauche depended on offering more modern options, releasing a Rive Gauche Light (2003) to accompany the re-launch, and even added a male counterpart simply called Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003). Since Opium pour Homme (1995) came 18 years late, he didn't see any problem with introducing Rive Gauche pour Homme 32 years late either, and evidently YSL would make a men's Y a whopping 53 years late too, so it's just something with Yves Saint Laurent perfumes anyway. Rive Gauche pour Homme would smell like luxury shave foam in a can, which I guess fits the aesthetic more than the original Rive Gauche, even if the point of the metal can in the first place was to express modernity and the then-futuristic "cold" metallic nature of the fragrance. All told, Rive Gauche was the opposite of the raunchy virile "liberated" perfumes postwar housewives wanted, representing a different kind of independence as their daughters, who were entering college and the workplace in record number, wished to express. What's old was new again and another wave of heavily aldehyde-based perfumes would dominate into the 70's and 80's thanks to fragrances like Rive Gauche, just with emphasis on humorless and massively green overtones, tomboyish enough for men decades later to flirt with wearing. Left bank or left-hand path? You decide. Thumbs up.
17th January, 2021

Prada Amber pour Homme Intense by Prada

Prada Amber pour Homme Intense (2011) is an odd "limited edition" flanker to the original Prada Amber pour Homme (2006), as it is a fragrance that doesn't fit the usual soapy/clean office-friendly profile the house likes to follow with its masculine releases. Instead, we see a borderline animalic vibe and a true amber note saddled with honeyed incense in the fragrance, with little to no iris note to be found. This dark and seductive turn is personified by a dark black version of the original Prada Amber pour Homme bottle, adorned with the same chrome metal label and offset sprayer. I guess perfumer Daniela Andrier really wanted a black sheep in the family, something she would similarly do with the Prada Luna Rossa (2012) range when introducing Prada Luna Rossa Black (2018), except that fragrance has none of the risqué this one does. I sorta wish I could say more, but Prada Amber pour Homme Intense is rather cut and dry despite being an attempt to break the mold, and is still well within the "buttoned up and structured" realm of the Prada masculine vibe, just with a slight pimp limp in its step.

The big deal about Amber pour Homme Intense, the thing that has all the vintage and niche heads up in a roar over the stuff, is the honeyed incense opening. The opening is very anachronistic (as is most of the scent), with bergamot, some spices, and a styrax feel right away. Myrrh or some aromachemical approximation of it enters in the heart, with the sweet benzoin side of styrax adding roundness and chypre-feel. Further roundness with vanilla also comes into play, sitting on a base of patchouli, orris, musk, tonka, and the traditional amber note almost comically missing from the original (which relied more on labdanum under the glorious hotel soap heart). Even as a spicy, musky, ambery oriental with a slight virile streak, Amber pour Homme Intense feels clinical and a tad humorless, like a scientist trying to simulate sexiness with an algorithm rather than evoking a feeling. Wear time is about average and projection is close to skin after the first 30 minutes, with best use being fall through spring in evening situations. You could rock this at an office after-party or on a casual Friday scenario, because it performs conservatively.

I put the words "limited edition" in quotes because here is a scent that has always been just a bit more expensive than the original Prada Amber pour Homme, always a bit harder to find, always declared discontinued (it may very well be), which causes a temporary "Tulip Mania" price spike on eBay that eventually settles back down to a few clams higher than when it started. Make no mistakes, this stuff is getting more expensive over time, but almost in a tidal fashion, with fits and starts of gouging, then lowering down to a bit higher than the previous low price. This makes me believe there is a bit of artificial scarcity maybe on Prada's part, or just subsequent waves of buyers remorse then refunds after every availability scare comes and goes. Compared to Prada Luna Rossa Black, Amber pour Homme Intense is a Prada masculine oriental actually worth investigating, but it's still tame by the standards of those who enjoy more full-bodied examples of the genre. I like the "office chic" of Prada masculines, but when they veer outside it, mixed results occur. Worth sniffing if you find a deal, but only then. Thumbs up.
15th January, 2021

Friktion for Men by Avon

Avon Friktion for Men (2000) is a spicy oriental men's fragrance that was the start of a DNA Avon would weave into future oriental and gourmand fragrances like Intrigue (2001), Passion Dance for Men (2004), and eventually Tomorrow for Men (2005). It was common in the 2000's, when Avon was cranking out somewhere like a half-dozen new releases for men a year (and double that for women) to shuffle around top and heart notes but keep about 70% of the base intact, forming iterative evolutions of a core idea. Part of me thinks this was refinement though a low-key unofficial roughshod form of consumer testing, where initial sales determined if they should keep a scent in production or pull it six months later to remake it as something else next year, but part of me also thinks the increasingly frenzied release and discontinuation cycle Avon used to generate fear of missing out was the cause and not the consequence of such iterative perfume design, especially since it made R&D time for each scent into "crunch time". In any case, Frikton for Men lasted all of a single year in the US catalogs, and smells a bit ahead of its time in regards to design, plus got a larger product push than things borrowing its DNA, seeing a ton of accessories bundled with it in giftsets or sold separately. Frikton also seems to be one of the easier-to-find Avon masculines from this period, telling me nobody bought it besides the Avon ladies that liked to stock items for customers. Whoops.

The overall theme of Friktion for Men is to be an ambery oriental, but it has gourmand tones that would be more popularized into the latter half of the 2000's with designers like Kenneth Cole RSVP (2006) And Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men (2008). The opening is cinnamon and fiery red pepper, mixed with a bit of pink pepper; this last bit was very forward-thinking as pink pepper was years away from being a ubiquitous note in men's fragrance openings. This spicy kick is smoothed some with lavender and clary sage in the heart, two very safe (and very Avon) masculine note inclusions, but nutmeg, rosemary, a bit of cardamom, and sweetness bring in more of the gourmand goods. The base is that smooth Avon amber combined with tonka, musk, and a bit of balsam fir woodiness. The way Avon handles its amber here is the DNA between this, Intrigue, Passion Dance, and Tomorrow, as mentioned above. Being the first of this iterative processes, Friktion feels the least like a proper gourmand, especially with the odd barbershop tones sandwiched in the middle, but the pink pepper in such early form proves Avon can be forward-thinking despite their usual low-risk style. Wear time is about eight hours, and although most of the scent fades by then, a lovely peppery Avon amber laced with woods lingers behind until past the eight hour mark. Best use is in winter for sure, and Frikton feels like a good dating choice as it's spicy but subdued. The cog bottle is a bit cheesy, so don't let your object of infatuation see you apply your scent before heading out.

All told, Friktion for Men had stiff competition within Avon's own stables and from without as well, so it landed like a voice in a chorus and quickly became background melody. Perceive for Men (2000) and Avon Uomo (2000) also launched, even if the latter targeted more mature buyers, plus all the designer gourmands from Givenchy, Rochas, Yohji Yamamoto, and Mugler kept the guys with deeper pockets busy. I'm not saying Avon shouldn't have tried making gourmand orientals for guys, but maybe waiting until they had become mainstream enough for blue collar Joe to know what they are would have been better, and we were still a few years away from that in 2000. As for the DNA itself, Avon would perfect it in gourmand form by Tomorrow for Men, which was also a timely release in 2005, and naturally is the one that caught on and stayed (at least in European markets). I really enjoy Friktion, but my opinion is perhaps informed by the "newness" of this to my collection, since it's one I missed back in 2000 when it was released and I bought my first round of Avons on my own, making me 20 years late to the party on this poor fella. Intrigue was my first dip into this style of fragrance from the brand, and this feels like it's weird cousin. If a spicy ambery gourmand with traditional masculine elements spliced in sounds like a good time (aka Red Hots mixed with aftershave and amber), Friktion for Men may have what it takes to turn you on. Otherwise, this stuff may just grind your gears instead. Thumbs up.
14th January, 2021

Eau de Guerlain by Guerlain

Rumor has it that when it came time for Jean-Paul Guerlain to follow the time-honored tradition of making his own eau de cologne to be added to the ranks of each house perfumer's eau since the first, he decided not to make something fresh and ephemeral as his fore-bearers, but to instead make more of a lasting fragrance while staying at eau de cologne strength. Little did he know then that years later a market would emerge for longer-lasting takes on the eau de cologne style, particularly in higher-end designer and niche markets, but his original Eau de Guerlain (1974) was perhaps the earliest example of what we now would probably call a luxury eau de cologne. You can contest that "extra-vielle" variants of the original Farina recipe released by Roger & Gallet predate this, but they don't really have much longer wear time than most standard eaux, plus the contents of the alleged first "Olivier Creed Eau de Cologne" bottles from when Creed re-appeared as a perfumer (after the centuries-old haberdasher/leather maker ran by Charles Creed shuttered) cannot really be confirmed. With that out of the way, it's safe to say Eau de Guerlain is the world's first "strong" eau de cologne, but this strength comes at extreme cost to fidelity with the traditional neroli-lead eau de cologne style. Also, this was marketed to men, but like most takes on the eau de cologne style, is thoroughly unisex, because lemons and florals don't exactly declare themselves endowed one way or the other.

For starters, the opening blast of Eau de Guerlain is not neroli and bergamot, but rather lemon verbena, bergamot, and petitgrain, the last one often considered a lower-cost substitute for neroli. Petitgrain has a much sharper smell than neroli, being extracted from the leaves of the bitter orange rather than from orange blossoms, and this adds the desired potency alongside the cleverly-placed verbena and rosemary, but at the loss of the soapy fresh opening you expect from an eau de cologne which neroli brings. That isn't to say Eau de Guerlain isn't fresh, but it's a rather smart freshness instead of a soft one. Caraway seed leads into some evolving jasmine and rose later into the dry down, which is completely unlike most eau de cologne formulas except maybe the aforementioned Creed Original Cologne/Pure White Cologne (2011), which uses some rose. The floral chypre demeanor here in Eau de Guerlain presages later floral masculines like 1881 pour Homme by Nino Cerruti (1990), while also being a bit on the dry woody side like Eau de Rochas pour Homme (1993). Being as this is about 15 years before the second one, that puts Eau de Guerlain in pretty futuristic footing for the time, but the traditional oakmoss chypre base boosted with sandalwood, white musk, and amber, shows the true traditional face of the scent. Wear time is going to be eight hours, which is definitely an improvement over a bottle of a Farina-style eau de cologne, and projection is moderate to light, but still more than you'd expect.

As with most eau de cologne style fragrances, this is purely a warm weather treat, because even with enhanced performance thanks to some stiffer ingredients and a heavier base, Eau de Guerlain still disappears under the nose in cold weather, unless wearing indoors after a shower. Like all eau de colognes available from Guerlain, this one has also been moved to the spray-topped 3.4oz/100ml "bee bottle", where it can be found most places that handle a larger selection of Guerlain beyond the token Shalimar (1925) and maybe a few others. Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green (1986) and Verveine L'Occitane (2003) get pretty close to this in style, particularly the former, with it's focus on the verbena, sandalwood, oakmoss, and lemon. Neither of these have the soft dandy rose/jasmine core, but perform better than Eau de Guerlain does. Also sadly, there is no discernible "Guerlinade" here, but I don't think it gets included in the eau de colognes anyway. One last thing of interest here is that this would be the last "cologne de parfumeur" made by an actual Guerlain, as Jean-Paul would be replaced by Thierry Wasser, who would literally name his entry into the cologne canon as La Cologne de Parfumeur (2010), likely to show his relative anonymity as a perfumer hired to curate the house of Guerlain rather than being a blood-relative of the namesake family. Definitely not your average eau! Thumbs up.
11th January, 2021

Duetto by Sospiro

Sospiro was a sister house of Xerjoff, but unlike Casamorati, wasn't allowed to retain it's own identity under the brand umbrella of Sergio Momo's consolidated Xerjoff after 2019, sharing the same fate as collections with unique bottles like Join the Club or Shooting Stars, being folding into the standard Xerjoff range with standard homologous Xerjoff bottles. The best sellers from the Sospiro got to live again as Xerjoff fragrances, like Sospiro Erba Pura (2013), but many did not. Sospiro Duetto (2011) is one such fragrance that was de-facto discontinued when the line was folded back into the luxury niche mothership of Xerjoff, but in some ways it might be for the best since it does what a lot of fragrances in its respective genre do, at relatively the same price point to boot. 2011 was a busy year for Western takes on oud, with contenders coming left and right from designers, luxury niche brands, and even some budget/drugstore houses since the late 2000's. This would continue into the mid 2010's, with woody masculine medicinal oud fragrances geared at men and rose/oud combos with virile animal musks or patchouli aimed at women, although all genders tend to wear all types of ouds released regardless of marketing, as oud by then had taken on a cult-like fascination with Western buyers that had caught the bug since Tom Ford via Yves Saint Laurent M7 (2002) made the "oud" note trendy. Amidst all this noise, Duetto didn't have much of a chance.

Duetto feels like a compromise between the skanky swinging phallus ouds typically reserved for the Arabian attar/mukhallat marketand and the sweeter patchouli/benzoin oud takes that most luxury brands like By Kilian would be known for in the fragrance hobby community. Thirty-Three by the indie perfumer Ex Idolo (2013) would take a similar path, but honestly if you're going to introduce any degree of skank at all, you might as well commit to it like Parfums Dusita would do with Oudh Infini (2014), which is by far the best display of an Arabian rose/oud in a Western perfume format I've smelled. If you know these rose/oud takes well, you already know how this one smells, but for those who don't, here's what I get: An opening of funky barnyard oud blast in the beginning mixed with a dark Turkish rose, thickened out by pink pepper and musky ylang-ylang. Eventually, that rose settles in and the funk is emulsified better with jasmine, carnation, and some vanilla, before the base settles in. This base is amber, which creams the funk some more, before drying on a convincing sandalwood note with oakmoss, vetiver, camphoraceous patchouli, and a touch of civet for a bit of fecal musk. You could almost call this a "poor man's Oudh Infini" but it's not even cheap so throw that out the window, but it is good, if a tiny bit more polite. Sillage, projection, and wear time are not worth measuring, consider them everlasting. Best use is up to you, as this is not something to be worn among strangers unless you're the boss and everyone has to bite their tongue around you. Do try to avoid high humidity with this scent too.

Sospiro Duetto like Dior Leather Oud (2010) before it was probably just too animalic for it's own good among the Western buyers it aimed for, remaining a cult favorite among oud heads in the online fragrance community, but not resonating with the target affluent clueless trust fund oligarch spawn the brand courted. I mean, these are people who post their "drip" on Instagram and get chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to a McDonald's drive through just to make the poor minimum wage 3-jobs-to-pay-rent guy filling their order feel even more like a victim of a failed economic system than he already is, so what in tarnations are they supposed to know about the subtleties of oud fragrance? Nothing at all I tell ya, and that's why Duetto didn't make the transition to the Xerjoff line like some of the other Sospiros. Is this good? Yeah, if you like cat piss and unwashed tube snake rolling around in roses, patchouli, and hay borrowed from a horse stable, plus with some vanilla blossoms growing outside the stable door catching your nose. Otherwise, this is not vile enough for the hardcore oud attar fiends, but not civilized enough for the kind of people that think Parfums de Marly is a benchmark of sophistication in this price range. Surviving stock of this does not see a ton of discount but every now and then you see a "sprayed twice" bottle being hocked by a blind-buyer who got burned, wanting to unload their bad decision at a loss to be rid of it, and that's when you should act on acquisition if interested. Another day, another oud. Thumbs up.
11th January, 2021

Alain Delon Plus / AD Plus by Alain Delon

Alain Delon Plus (1987) is for all intents and purposes a revision and performance bump to the original house-launching Alain Delon (1980) fragrance for men. The original scent was a floral chypre with some fougère touches that sort of acted as a precursor to things like Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui (1981) and a bit of soapiness that linked it to scents like Paco Rabanne pour Homme (1973), making it difficult to categorize but easy to enjoy for fans of geranium, which was easily the original scent's most prominent feature. With Alain Delon Plus (sometimes referred to as AD Plus), then-modern inclusions of aromechemicals in addition to a greater focus on florals created something smoother, more chic, but also more potent than the 1980 scent. Alain Delon Plus was the powerhouse that Alain Delon was not, and also a more conventional and sensible alternative to the full-tilt animalic rose chypre that was Alain Delon Iquitos (1987) released in the same year. Like the actor, the entire house never had long-term sustained success outside France, but those who knew the brand loved it, and felt part of something special not everyone else was in on. Alain Delon Plus also seems to try a little harder to bank on the sex appeal the actor himself was known to have in the 60's and 70's, as it's very sauve, approachable, with touches of youthful sweetness mixed into the clean soapy aromatic fougère/chypre hybrid formula. Alain Delon Plus was overshadowed by Iquitos in the end, because the scent seemed to linger longer in the aftermarket after discontinuation.

The opening of Alain Delon Plus is breathtaking, with a soft cloud of lavender-scented aldehydes and that old-school Earl Grey-style bergamot mixing with laurel leaf and rosemary. The "poor man's neroli" known as petitgrain adds some citric floral tones that really set up the geranium core which returns from the original Alain Delon fragrance. The geranium doesn't dominate this time as it did in Alain Delon, however. In place of this fat Geranium note comes a more-balanced geranium playing with a drop of rose, still playing with carnation as it did in the original as well, but honeyed and spiced with benzoin and cinnamon. The orris of Alain Delon is replaced with the aquatic soapiness of dihydromyrcenol, making me think of Drakkar Noir (1982) and Givenchy Xeryus (1986). Considering that along with Houbigant Duc de Vervins (1985), this style was gaining traction over the animalic patchouli monsters of the decade, it's no surprise Alain Delon would be given such a makeover into Alain Delon Plus, then amped up in performance to be the proper powerhouse the original was not. Oakmoss and cedar also return from Alain Delon, but amber is replaced with the simpler and smoother labdanum, while balsam fir stays but tonka gets switched out for a bit of castoreum leather. This last part makes Alain Delon Plus feel a bit more chypre than fougère at the end, and omits powdery "brown" for a fragrance that relies more on woods, mosses, and the clean floral orchestration. Best use is pretty much all seasons, as a general signature. It's pretty much that good. Wear time is all day, and do we need to mention projection? Probably not. Also this one feels just a tad "younger" than its older brother, at least in how it wears.

Alain Delon Plus is every bit the "plus" its name suggests, but unlike most powered-up alternate versions of pillar scents, is really so different in its own right as to be considered another scent entirely. I would be strained to call Alain Delon Plus a flanker for this reason, even if it technically is, instead seeing it as a revision of the original if anything. Lovers of this early clean aromatic fougère style (a precursor to the 90's fresh fougère) will absolutely love Alain Delon Plus, as it is essentially a clean floral fougère/chypre hybrid much like the later Giorgio Beverly Hills Red for Men (1991), that leans more into the chypre elements into the dry down rather than the expected rounded fougère tones. Sadly, discovering discontinued fragrances from dead houses like Alain Delon is a race against time you're rigged to lose unless you're flush with cash and don't mind dropping a car payment to buy perfume, meaning if you already have anything I've compared this to, you may be better off staying away. I say this because despite it's refinement and beauty, it doesn't bring anything new to the table, and didn't really then either. The whole point of Alain Delon Plus was to capitalize on trends of the late 80's, and it likely did so enough to justify its existence in the short term, but considering it didn't get another lease on life like the original did when Art & Fragrance briefly had the house, I'd say long-term viability was doomed from the onset. Alain Delon Plus seems to really appeal to the "all things 80's" subset of vintage collectors, and I like it better than the original myself, but is less unique and less loved than some others from this house. Thumbs up
10th January, 2021

Alain Delon / AD by Alain Delon

Alain Delon is a famous French actor who decided to cash in on his sex appeal with his own fragrance line in the 1980's, a career move that ended up quite successful for a time, before the brand cachet of his name faded with the fashionable fragrance buying public and returned to the circles of French cinema aficionados. The house launched in 1980 with this fragrance, called Alain Delon (1980), but also referred to as AD or later re-issued as Alain Delon Classic during a brief stint when Art & Fragrance (owners of the Lalique license) manufactured the Alain Delon brand. A lot of baby boomers and Generation X guys who've been into men's fragrance since they were in their twenties about when this scent launched will remember it and the brand fondly, as celebrity fragrances didn't quite have the stigma then as they now do, and Alain Delon himself wasn't a super well-known figure outside France, meaning folks in places like the US might have mistaken this as a hip new designer perfume brand anyway. I think Alain Delon the fragrance is a prime example of something not truly appreciated until it's long gone, but more on that a little further down. For now, let's focus on the actual smell. For along time this was a cheap find on eBay, especially since it was re-issued after the original "non-classic" bottles released by Denz dried up, but that second wind has come and gone again, so while not the priciest unicorn in the discontinued fragrance game, Alain Delon isn't cheap enough to casually blind buy.

The smell of Alain Delon sits in that 80's nether-region of soapy fougère-like clean, and sharp aromatic chypre territory, offering up gentlemanly roomed sophistication with some gusto of manly herbs, oakmoss, and a dry scent trail. Overall, there are a lot of notes here but this is really all about geranium. The gorgeous opening of aldehydes, basil, bergamot, wormwood, laurel, and juniper come across bright and a bit medicinal, but the gorgeousness of the sharp floral geranium and carnation, with a small speck of lavender for roundness bring us into what smells like a lighter and drier take on what Oscar de la Renta pour Lui (1981) would try to do in the following year. The key difference is, Alain Delon keeps the focus on geranium, and has a bit more soap in the mix with orris and a balsam fir note. The base is mossy, with cedar over some dry amber, hay like tonka, and has that "brown" vibe scents from this cusp era seem to share, so we're not in full fresh soapy Drakkar Noir (1982) territory just yet, but it's peaking from around the corner with Alain Delon. Still, at the end of the day, this is all about geranium and how everything else in the composition supports it, so you better like geranium if you plan to like this. Wear time is about seven hours, so you can get nearly a work day with it, and I feel this was to make it an easy wear in an era where everything had to be a huge unwashed codpiece or ripped sleeve overstuffed with bicep. There were some guys just not into showing off, and they needed something to wear too. Alain Delon is not a powerhouse, but more of that mid-century sort of genteel well-sorted manliness. Best use weather-wise for this will be fall through spring, as the slightly powdery ambery chypre nature of the dry down may be just a bit much for high heat or humidity.

The downside to this all is one thing: genteel and well-sorted were not what guys on the prowl near the end of the disco era wanted from a fragrance, making Alain Delon veer more mature even for 1980, so it remained mostly an under-the-radar scent outside France, but did well enough on name recognition in Alain's home country alone to keep the lights on and bills paid. Much louder and "more eighties" follow-ups like Iquitos (1987) and Alain Delon Plus (1987) would grab English-speaking men by the ears and make them take notice, but by the late eighties there was so much choice in the department stores that Alain Delon as a house never really became a worldwide phenomenon outside the actor's following. It was only in hindsight by the same boomers and gen-xers whom were now in their late forties or early sixties, with a nostalgic longing for all things related to their prime, that this fragrance and some of its successors gained any real respect among the more popular and common 80's masculines which unlike Alain Delon/AD/Classic, were still available on store shelves but didn't give them that same emotional spark. I totally get the power surviving specimen fragrances of a given era can have on the souls of the wearers who through those fragrances remember and regain a bit of that swagger in their step the world may have beaten out of them in the decades that have passsed since then. Ultimately, Alain Delon the fragance found about as much sporadic success abroad as the actor himself, but returned to France each time as a cultural legend. Thumbs up
10th January, 2021

Ma Liberté by Jean Patou

The amazing thing about the majority of old Patou fragrances during the years Jean Kerleo was house perfumer, is that he basically ran the operation like a modern day indie/artisanal perfumer would, by pretty much doing whatever the Hell he wanted with the brief he was given, tantamount to really just having carte blanche with the fragrances that got released. This seemingly ended towards the final years of his tenure, when he was forced to make "modern" fragrances for then-owner Shaneel Enterprises, resulting in less-loved creations like Voyageur (1994) and Sublime (1992), but even those were more or less obstinantly made on his terms. Kerleo is a lover of chypres, showcased by the fact that nearly all of his perfumes are chypres, and more specifically a lover of both Mysore sandalwood and oakmoss, with his compositions having what modern IFRA regulations would consider a frighteningly large quantity of the latter, which is why any attempt to reformulate his creations for relaunch ends in rejection by fans of the originals. Ma Liberté (1987) is a scent among this pantheon that has for the most part fallen through the cracks of time, since it wasn't popular in its time and remained cheaper (because more plentiful) for longer than the rest after discontinuation, but this sadly is no longer the case since fans of many ultra-unicorn status masculines from the house have discovered how adjacent Ma Liberté is to them and have began to gobble it up. This is turn, has had once-affordable survivor stock shoot up in price, even if it will be a while yet before a bottle of Ma Liberté ever cracks four digits like some vintage masculine Patou fragrances have done.

I can imagine Ma Liberté remained more of a hidden Patou gem compared to much of the rest, for the key reason that it was a fragrance out of time and gender conventions when originally released. The bulk of what is here was retooled into a floral fougère for the most part as Patou pour Homme Privé (1994), where it would be lauded by tastemakers and vintage connoisseurs for years after discontinuation, yielding even higher prices in the aftermarket than the already-insane prices the original Patou pour Homme (1980) commands. This fragrance is basically the mother of Patou pour Homme Privé and smells every bit of it, also having similar unisex vibes thanks to a mixture of lavender barbershop tones and floral chypre construction. The opening of Ma Liberté comes out powdery, sweet, and floral, with big notes of heliotrope and lemon over a clean hedione. The heart is classic soft French lavender buttressed by centifolia rose and a light jasmine (likely the source of the hedione feeling), coming across clean, bright, pillowy, and fresh in a natural way rarely seen in anything labelled "fresh" by perfume houses. The base is equally soft and genteel, with a white musk interwoven with nutmeg and vanilla on that sandalwood and oakmoss chypre base. Pecks of labdanum seeded with cinnamon spice and vetiver further enhance the soft green clean rounded glow of a composition that'll last all day on skin, but this is no screamer. If you're a fan of Eau de Patou (1976), this is a slightly rounder bigger-boned take on the idea, and wears wonderfully in most climates as a casual clean second skin kind of olfactive ambiance. The bottom line here is Ma Liberté is a unisex clean and groomed comfort food kind of scent, perhaps not in marketing, but in execution.

I can totally see why Ma Liberté flopped for Patou, as it was a whisper-quiet fragrance in an era of massive shoulder pads and when Ogilvie perms ruled, when women drenched themselves in "the hug me accord" from Sophia Grojsman in loud "terrible tuberose" perfumes or powerhouse orientals like Dior Poison (1985) stank up restaurants. If only a decade later this had surfaced, it could have caught the unisex wave kindled by Calvin Klein cK One (1994) and been marketed as such, but by then Patou pour Homme Privé was already out servicing men who didn't want the rich chypre interpretation of the aquatic Kerleo was forced to drum up in Voyageur. With Ma Liberté separating itself mostly from the former as a chypre exercise futilely aimed at women, with a few extra floral sweet tones and no tonka, it may actually appeal more to the open-minded collectors that try to avoid gender stereotypes in fragrance anyway. This is especially true because lavender-focused fragrances for women are exceedingly rare and never usually come across "feminine" in the traditional sense, and lavender paired with a chypre structure is also quite rare outside the early 20th century when it was played with in perfumes like Chevalier d'Orsay (1911) or gender-flirting exercises like Yves Saint Laurent pour Homme (1971) and Balenciaga Ho Hang (1972), the latter of those being marketed as unisex at first then later for men. In short, this is a beautiful and sophisticated fragrance not easily defined except by its chosen genre, ahead of it's time but also paradoxically a bit stuck in the past, like most Kerleo output for the house. Ma Liberté is a real collector's piece for the fans of lost perfume. Thumbs up.
10th January, 2021

Curve Crush for Men by Liz Claiborne

Curve Crush for Men (2003) is important for three reasons, snobs be damned. The first of those reasons, is it's the first proper flanker for the line (alongside the feminine counterpart) for the original Curve for Men (1996), showing that Claiborne Cosmetics had finally given up on making "Curve but Not-Curve" fragrances that had the Curve DNA in them but were called something else. These almost-flankers ran between nice and not-so-nice, with some interesting names attached to their creation, but here was a proper flanker not afraid to be what it is. Secondly, this was also launched directly into big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target alongside Macy's, showing the first signs of downmarket slippage for Claiborne. Lastly, this is the final such fragrance to get a major luxury department store release at all. Future releases to the line went right into the big box retailer health and beauty aisles. Love it or hate it, Curve Crush for Men is a bookend of sorts to Claiborne's time as a designer house competitive with the big players like Chanel, Dior, and so on. I think by 2003 Claiborne had overexposed this successful DNA in too many other scents rather than curate exposure to it with a single unflanked pillar to keep prices high like Armani did with the similarly successful Acqua di Giò pour Homme (1996), which is why Curve Crush for Men got (and still gets) so many eye-rolls.

Pascal Guarin and Jean-Marc Chaillan double-teamed this scent, and they took the Curve DNA created by Jean-Claude Delville and put it for the most Guerlain-style as the base for the rest of the fragrance, which means you still end up smelling almost just like the original Curve once the thing dries down. The top notes come in juicy and a bit dark, and are clearly the best part. Pear and bergamot mix with aldehydes, lily of the valley, a bit of camphor, then herbs like basil and tarragon. There's something remotely smokey into the heart like a whisp of birch, with a medicinal lavandin "lavender" note years before such cold displays of lavender via lavandin were popular in designers, then clary sage for hay-like fougère factor. Leafy green violet mixes with ginger, cardamom, and coriander to make a "cold spice" display, then your old friend Curve tags in and the ride is over. From there, you know the story: Clean, musky, a bit woody, sweet, warm, and synthetic. If you like original Curve for Men, this may be fine, although anticlimactic at best. If you don't, then you might want a refund after peering into a Curve darkly only to end up in the same semi-generic destination. Best use is pretty much casual year-round wear, and being as this was made for the youth of the 2000's, it may feel a bit too colorful like many things made for young men back then, cashing in on peak MTV culture of the time. Longevity is about 8 hours although projection pulls in after only the first two.

The final verdict is Curve Crush for Men isn't great, but is good. It smells cheap, but it was made cheap and sold cheap, right from the start. Claiborne Cosmetics was sliding into discounter territory then as Liz herself was long retired and past caring (plus 4 years away from her death), with her ready-to-wear lines showing up in Kohl's then eventually becoming an exclusive JCPenny brand. There are no illusions to this being anything but something sprayed to cover BO in high-school locker rooms of the 2000's, or doused in before heading out to a skate park or rave (remember those?) to scope out phone numbers in an era just before Facebook. If you try to get all "fragrance connoisseur" galaxy-brained with this and postulate on the greater artistic depth or meaning of it, or go down the "objective value" rabbithole and namedrop philosphers like Foucalt or Kant in an attempt to prove or disprove its very existence, you're not only missing the point by miles (real or perceived), but aren't a very fun person to be around. A small bit of trivia with this one: Curve Crush for Men (and the feminine as well) originally shipped with an expiration date as a gimmick to advertise the "freshness" of its fruity notes. Obviously, we all know there are next to no naturals in fragrances like this, but I wonder how many teens oversprayed to use it up before it "spoiled"? To Curve or not to Curve, that is the real question. Thumbs up.
08th January, 2021

Super Fragrance for Men by Etienne Aigner

There isn't a ton of information about Étienne Aigner fragrances from the past, other than they were mostly produced under the radar of the average buyer, and were for some time owned by Shaneel Enterprises. The designer himself oddly had two completely separate design houses in New York and Munich, and both released fragrances independently of each other but both through Shaneel at one point, which is why there may seem to be two faces to the house. The face laid bare in Super Fragrance for Men (1978) is definitely the more European flavor, traditional and genteel, but strong enough to horse kick the smile off your face if you bite your thumb at them. This fragrance is every bit what it sounds like: a super-powered semi-oriental chypre that shows facets of design that would later be stapled onto the fougère form in fragrances like Patou pour Homme (1980), helping to kick off a powdery rich "old money" smell that mature men would end up loving over modern freshies into the 90's and beyond. However, back when Super Fragrance hit the market, this scent profile was rather novel, and didn't feel like a capitulation to an older demographic a la Guerlain Héritage (1992), so it probably saw a lot of late disco era use right before that plug was pulled too. The packaging of this scent is also rather monolithic and striking, which seems to also be par for the course with the house.

The opening of this is going to be a huge woosh of tarragon, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, and galbanum, feeling green and sharp. There is a bit of dry tonka and cedar in the heart (unusual as that may seem) which moves through rose, jasmine, and iris/orris to produce a powdery dandy floral component similar in tone to the later Lalique pour Homme (1997), which can be seen itself as sort of a spiritual successor to this scent. At least, the eventual dry down of Super Fragrance reminds me the most of the eau de parfum concentration of Lalique pour Homme, which may make it a viable alternative because of how insanely expensive Super Fragrance has become, but more on that later. Patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood, dry amber, labdanum, civet, and a bit of costus establish that chypre dry-down, which merges with the fougère-like elements of the heart (minus lavender), to make a powdery slightly skanky old-world gentlemanly feel which in 1978 probably felt new in the face of soapy fougères, brown ambery musks, and herbal leather treatments popular then. You will have to like powdery scents to fully appreciate this, because that iris/orris never backs down. Wear time is pretty much all day, as this is a "super fragrance", with sillage for days and projection that will keep anyone who doesn't agree at arms length. Best use for this is going to be in all seasons except summer, because the kind of smell this produces might come across a bit too animalic in sweaty conditions.

The big problem with exploring this and many other older Aigner fragrances is they were made in small numbers then, and are just about extinct now, with surviving examples literally costing more than a bottle of Creed at retail from most eBay sellers (who are also collectors of vintages in most cases). These folks have monopolized the surviving stock, and hold out for the high-ball buyers so desperate to relive their youth or complete their own collection, that they're gonna drop that $300-$500+ being asked for them. It's possible to get samples or decants if you are friendly with some of these same collectors, so if you're just looking to educate yourself on old Aigner fragrances, a little bit of legwork may get the job done, but if you like the style presented here, just buy the Lalique and save yourself an extra zero on the price tag. Overall, Aigner Super Fragrance for Men is a unicorn that is probably more deserving of the title than most overpriced vintages (in larger supply than their price may suggest), since it really is that rare and you're only likely to find maybe a half dozen people worldwide even willing to part with bottles, plus the materials used here are long past exhausted by over-harvesting or restricted by IFRA. This is a lovely late 70's peek at what would be a popular men's style in the 80's, being a missing link between fougères and chypres via the oriental style. Thumbs up.
02nd January, 2021

Undeniable for Men by Avon

Avon Undeniable for Men (1991) is an early celebrity fragrance attaching Billy Dee Williams, and if rumors are to be believed, he had zero creative input on this, signing legal papers handed to him in passing to get his name on a fragrance line. Celebrity fragrances weren't proven sellers in those days, but it was an experiment Avon was willing to commit in search of relevance in a growing ocean of designer dominance. The stuff here literally smells like it was pegged for an American black cultural stereotype of the 1970's; Undeniable wears thick, musky, powdery, sweet, and ambery, like it crawled out of an inner city bodega and shares DNA with Jovan Musk for Men (1973) or Musk for Men by Coty (1974). Since we are talking about the same actor who also starred in many 70's "blaxploitation" films and became the face for Colt 45 malt liquor (another cultural stereotype), either Mr. Williams was letting old white executives exploit him for racially insensitive marketing while getting the last laugh at the bank, or was just riding high on his career peak with Star Wars as Lando Calrissian and past the point of caring about optics. Either way, it's bizarre to find a fragrance like this released in 1991, so somebody was playing a joke on the buying public somewhere in Avon HQ.

The opening of Undeniable for Men is all about sweet citrus and spice, which is no surprise. Cinnamon, clove, cardamom, mandarin orange, and a blast of that tonkin-like ambery 70's musk greet the nostrils. After the first twenty minutes or so, this throwback "disco destroyer" scent gets more powdery, vanillic, and a tad cleaner, with sandalwood, tonka, muguet, Avon's smooth house amber, and oakmoss. The musk note never goes away, and eventually Undeniable becomes all about that musk, flanked by the vanilla and sandalwood. There really isn't much of a top/heart/base structure here, as the musk is noticeable right away and everything collapses into that musk for the duration. Some compare this to Caron Le 3ème Homme (1985), but they aren't at all alike outside the clove. Wear time is about 8 hours with that musk lingering on skin longer, and good projection for the first four, so consider this typical "mens' cologne" strength. Where or when you'd use this is anyone's guess, but musks like this tend to feel most appropriate in the cooler climates or times of year, for obvious reasons. These types of musks take my breath away, so while I like them, they are a rare indulgence typically under-applied as to not exacerbate my allergies. You wanna be "the cologne guy"? Wear this to work.

Avon was in typical out-of-touch fashion when releasing a strangely irrelevant heavy musk for men in the early 90's, regardless of whether low-key racism was part of the intent or not. No young person of the day would be wanting this for Christmas no matter their ethnicity, as freshies and aquatics were taking over, while older guys by then settled on aromatic powerhouse fougères and were sick of potentially stuffy musks like this. However, I do admit this does feel like something Billy Dee Williams would wear, as it fits the smooth-talking debonair but thinly-veiled seducer vibe he tends to give off on-screen, but considering he could afford anything he wanted, why would he wear Avon? I say this with respect because I love Avon, but a millionaire actor in the 80's or early 90's was more likely to plop his butt into a Creed or Guerlain boutique than call the local Avon lady. All jokes aside, Undeniable for Men is a vanillic clove and musk bomb that isn't without its charms, but the furthest thing from what anyone wanted or expected from a men's fragrance in 1991. It's no surprise Undeniable came and went from the Avon catalog with the same quickness as their non-celebrity releases of the day, lasting but a year on the books outside a holiday re-issue in 95. Thumbs up
02nd January, 2021

Play Intense by Givenchy

The basic premise of this fragrance is pretty easy to figure out, it's a "playful" sweet youthful masculine scent made for clubbing and parties, but that in and of itself isn't a big deal. The huge problem for me personally, is this really should have been Givenchy Play (2008), but since they decided to launch a thin, deliberately underpowered version of this scent then give you the "real" one as Givenchy Play Intense (2008) with a simultaneous (but more expensive) launch, it comes across like a shameless money grab. When you further factor in the warp speed nature of 2000's Givenchy masculine market releases and flankers, plus the willy-nilly way in which they arbitrarily make some limited, others duty-free only, still others discontinued in short order, and it all adds up to being frustratingly exploitative of trend. Play was horrible, and Play Intense is only made slightly better (becoming tolerable) by actually having an okay base under the rest of the scent.

Emile Coppermann and Lucas Sieuzac speed dial the first Givenchy Play with minimal tweaks and a decent base, which could end the review here, but I'll go through the motions for those not familiar with the standard Play. The opening is a melange of sweet green citruses and pepper, but the rounder pink pepper replaces the original's black pepper. Ethyl maltol sugary notes float into a heart of hedione and geranium, with an added boozy note also not in the original which adds a bit more interest for my nose. Rounded sweet tonka and denatured "fruitchouli" style patchouli are reprised from the original Play, but are both much bolder and more noticeable. The vetiver here is nutty but the heavier dose of sweetened tonka and patchouli buries it, with the woody-amber tones reduced in this version in favor of that tonka. Givenchy Play Intense wears long enough for an evening, but still not really longer than the original, but it does have better projection. Honestly, you can do better, as this DNA found it's way into later scents. Best use is fall through spring at night.

For as plainly average and insipid as this is, at least it's wearable, which is why I don't hate Play Intense, but having to realize that this intense iteration is really the standard one while the standard one is just sub-par garbage is insulting to my intelligence as a potential buyer. Otherwise I can forgive the period "iPod packaging" that many designers were using to attract millennial consumers of the time (right before the economic crash destroyed their hopes of ever having a permanent career or owning anything). I'd call this a good cheap gift for a teen but Givenchy axed it in 2018 and now prices are ridiculous because the usual suspects hyped this up as the next lost masterpiece of the unicorn kind. Anyone believing that nonsense is kidding themselves when Calvin Klein still regularly releases fruity tonka patchouli mishmash like this in various flanker forms and Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008) is still readily available (and infinitely better). Your best bet is to leave Givenchy Play Intense on pause. Neutral
29th December, 2020

Play by Givenchy

If there was ever a great example of online fragrance collectors liking something just because it's discontinued, it's this horrible monstrosity, Givenchy Play (2008). For some context, Givenchy had been burning the candle at both ends with endless flankers of the flanker Insensé Ultramarine (1994), then Pi (1999), Greenergy (2000), Givenchy pour Homme (2002), and Very Irrésistible for Men (2005) into the 2000's, flooding the market with insipid options nearly with the same block-headed frequency as Calvin Klein, but everything was a near-miss or a total misfire (also like CK), so they kept throwing spaghetti at the wall, which leads us to this. By the late 2000's, sweet tobacco and tonka clubbers were becoming the new rage for night wear, so while Paco Rabanne responded with 1 Million (2008), Givenchy responded with Play (later referred to as Play for Him when a women's version released in 2010). The premise is simple: make a sweet innocuous chemical mess with fruity fresh tones and that denatured patchouli thickness that does nothing but keep everything else on skin. Calvin Klein would try something similar to this years later with ck One Red Edition for Him (2014), but managed to do a better job. This is the kind of thing you try to forget when smelled, and struggle to remember if someone else asks you about it later. It's that bad.

Emilie Coppermann did a lot of fragrances like this, so I guess she was an obvious choice, and she was paired with Lucas Sieuzac (son of Jean-Louis) to produce Play. The opening is ozonic peppery lemon and orange with a bit of sweetness that later moves into some geranium and white floral hedione filler. There are the usual clean aromachemical nondescript lines flowing through Play, like it was built off some ready-made framework that needed only the most minor modification to become its own fragrance, then the denatured patchouli, tonka tobacco note, some ethyl maltol sweetness and generic woody ambery nonsense (but not the heavy-handed scratchy ones) finish it off. What's even worse about this is it was built like a clubber but without the power of a clubber, because Givenchy already had plans for the flanker Givenchy Play Intense (2008) to release simultaneously as the -actual- clubber-strength version of this scent. Play Intense adds a touch of booziness that while not great, make it marginally better than this car crash of a scent. Wear time is about 7 hours and sillage is moderate, nothing else to report. You can wear this wherever you want but you'll smell a 2000's mall kiosk after the salesperson sprays 6 different clearance price things on cards for you. At least the sweetness and bits of floral peppery citrus make it feel more unisex than maybe it was meant to be.

This is just before Givenchy "found itself" rebooting all its classics (some for the second time) and making an upmarket "niche" range to compete with Dior, you can expect these confused exercises where the fragrance feels perfumed by the marketing department, while the actual perfumers are ham-stringed on the painfully specific brief. The packaging is the only cool thing, looking like one of those plastic earbud cases in a transparent pod-shape that was popular for fragrances in this decade since someone decided young people wanted their perfume to look like their gadgets. With how much hate the fragrance community had for this line when available, the last thing I expected was for everyone to do a 180 and start singing its praises when it was axed in 2018, but I underestimated the desperation to be relevant people have online. It was suddenly "cool" to like Play because it's not made anymore even if it (and its flankers) was trash before, with people looking for clicks and subs on their online platforms talking up Givenchy Play like a missed opportunity. If this is you, then you deserve to get ripped off by eBay sellers just to buy one precious drop of clout on social media, because Givenchy Play is the fragrance equivalent of watching Vanilla Ice attempt to copy Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit but end up on reality TV for his efforts. Thumbs down.
28th December, 2020

Must de Cartier pour Homme by Cartier

There must have been something in the water at the cusp of the 21st century that led many designers to make late-coming masculine additions to much older feminine lines. I figured it was a phenomenon exclusive to Tom Ford's adventures with YSL during this time period, but it turns out that Cartier was in on it as well, releasing Must de Cartier pour Homme (2000) almost twenty years after the original Must de Cartier (1981) debuted the house to the perfume world. In similar fashion to what YSL did with Opium pour Homme (1995) and later Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003), Cartier gave their Must de Cartier pour Homme only the most silken-fine tether to the original feminine perfume from which it took its name, modelling the scent with oriental facets but not making it a chypre like the erstwhile powerhouse classic. The late 90's and early 2000's were also a period where designers were solidly embracing polite oriental designs in masculine perfume, seemingly almost as a counter to all the aquatics, fresh fougères, ozonic fruity musks, sweet gourmands, and sharp Iso E Super and juniper woody scents being hail-mary'd to teens and young men in shopping malls. If you wanted something mature and stately, but didn't want to dip into your father's 70's/80's powerhouse animalic leathers or musky floral fougères, you went with a "nü-oriental" of the period. The short pill-shaped bottle designed to mimic the shape of the original release is a neat touch that makes it stand out on a shelf, too.

The opening of Must de Cartier is nice with a sharp metallic aldehyde and bergamot that is smoothed with a green leafy mandarin and coriander note, sweetened just a touch with anise. This has the same olive leaf/flower note that would later appear in Giorgio Armani Code/Black Code (2004), but it isn't annoyingly powdery or scratchy like it can be in that scent, since there is a ton of smoothness here too. People who weren't happy with the thickness of Opium pour Homme or Pour L'Homme by Jacques Fath (1998) will be happy with the relative dryness here. There's also just something -familiar- about this fragrance, like I've smelled it a handful of times in other period fragrances from the turn of the millennium, but I cannot put my finger on it. This mysterious "x note" is also in Eau de Cartier Concentrée (2002), Very Sexy for Him by Victoria Secret (1999) and Avon Skin 2 Skin for Men (2003), but to a lesser extent, so maybe it's the soft lavender treatment. Speaking of that, Must de Cartier pour Homme does have a soap soapy lavender in the heart, with cardamom, ginger, and trace bit of something like clove. The base is a woody musk which Cartier calls sandalwood, but it's about as "sandalwood" as you can expect by this point with abstract synthetics being the craze then. Tonka smooths the final skin feel, and Must de Cartier pour Homme wears rather discreetly, making it perfect for an office environment where not everyone is going to be your friend or appreciate bold fragrance. Best time of year to use Must de Cartier pour Homme is going to be fall through spring, because it might be just a tad too rich for summer heat.

Sadly, Must de Cartier entered a crowded field and was ignored, partially because young dudebros likely interpreted "Must" to mean "musty", and partly because by 2000's, similarly genteel fragrances like Very Valentino (1999) and Vera Wang for Men (2004) were entering the market and the designer shelf space was flooded with options just like it. Furthermore, Cartier had put out a blistering number of men's releases by the mid 2000's, with flankers to Pasha de Cartier (1992), Cartier Déclaration (1998), the various unisex Eau de Cartier (2001) releases, and this line, so the house was competing against itself in a market segment where it was already having an uphill battle against the likes of giants such as Dior, Chanel, the aforementioned YSL, and others. Something had to give, and that ended up being the ill-fated Must de Cartier pour Homme and it's briefly-existing flankers, so by the 2010's it was gone. Nathalie Feisthauer composed this, and her portfolio shows her to be a go-to for many brands looking for someone who can complete a brief with no fuss, so it's no surprise something low-key like this came from her. While never quite a hyped "unicorn", years off the market has taken Must de Cartier pour Homme from hidden discount gem to something that is insulting levels of pricey for what it is (considering the number of listings on eBay), although I understand why this has its fans. Sample before plunging big bucks on a bottle, and if you find this to be a "must" have, I won't blame you. Thumbs up.
28th December, 2020

Patou pour Homme (original) by Jean Patou

This is it gentlemen. This is the alpha, the omega, the first and final word in masculine perfume supremacy. This fragrance is the ultimate holy grail of vintage male fragrance gurus, the unicorn of unicorns, the king of kings, the there-never-will-be-better-so-you-might-as-well-give-up-on-perfume-period of discontinued men's fragrance. If you think about the brand, the context, the fact that its release was at the beginning of arguably the biggest and most stylistically overblown era for men's perfume, you can sort of understand the "doesn't get better than this" sentiment attached to what is likely the single most over-hyped discontinued men's fragrance in all of the online fragrance community. Patou pour Homme (1980) wasn't the first fragrance brought to market by the house for men, but it was given fanfare as if it had been. Costing much more than other designers when new due to uncompromising amounts of precious natural materials, and presented initially by sales associates with silk gloves, Patou used the sales pitch of "the extraordinary in a man's cologne" in English-speaking countries to communicate exclusivity. While not pricey on the level of Creed fragrances, Patou was nonetheless further upmarket than even Chanel and compared somewhat closer to Guerlain during their heyday despite Patou being a design house; middle managers wore Chanel, while the owner could afford Patou. Patou house perfumer Jean Kerleo loves oakmoss, and it's no secret if you look at the fact he nearly made every one of his creations for Patou as a chypre, but with Patou pour Homme he chose to go into the fougère genre, attaching elements of the chypre and even some oriental tones onto it. Patou pour Homme helped set the stage for the semi-oriental fougères of the late 80's, so for that it is important, but isn't a must-have. Patou under Proctor & Gamble relaunched a heavily-reformulated mostly-synthetic version to meet cost and regulations in 2013, but it was panned. Considering how expensive materials were part of the original's appeal, are you surprised?

Because Patou pour Homme presents itself as a three-headed hydra of fougère, chypre, and oriental, with mulled spice, amber, labdanum, and Mysore sandalwood smashed into a note pyramid that really has a fougère start with a chypre finish, it recalls some early 20th century experimental work done by perfumers before the three genres were quite so defined by formula. Those knowledgeable enough with antique masculine treatments will likely recognize a strong similarity to Sumare (1925) by The Crown Perfumery in Patou pour Homme, which is another totally extinct fragrance also from a totally extinct perfume house, plus bits of the masculine chypre craft Italian houses like Gucci and Gianfranco Ferré preferred in the era Patou pour Homme entered. For this reason, the opening is rather "brown" with pepper, tarragon, lavender, and galbanum over clary sage and geranium into the heart. The "brown" effect only intensifies as the oriental elements of patchouli and a creamy Mysore sandalwood take over. Bits and bobs of earthy vetiver and something like a small peck of castoreum leather enter the picture, but these just play tug-of-war of the main elements until the labdanum and oakmoss show up to take you home. Patou pour Homme sits between the aforementioned Sumare or other "lavender + chypre" scents like Arden for Men Sandalwood (1957) and something like Gucci pour Homme (1976) or Gianfranco Ferré for Man (1986). The overall effect is handsome, mature, and warm but not something you need if you already own any of the above, as the real point of distinction for Patou pour Homme is the level of polish used in execution that makes it feel more luxurious per the marketing than most things of its style on the market in the 80's. Wear time is about average and sillage is glowing, but not radiant beyond your personal bubble. Best use is for formal wear in cooler months because Patou pour Homme reads so spicy, warm, and rich. I can't imagine something this dense smelling good in summer.

If you're someone that believes this is "the greatest masculine fragrance ever made", you either drank the Kool-Aid being passed around online vintage fragrance forums circa 2005-2015 or you're a late boomer/early Gen-Xer that hit his prime in the decade this scent did, seeing Don Johnson sporting a bottle on Miami Vice, but being unable to afford it then. Once Patou switched hands to Proctor & Gamble from Shaneel, everything made up to that point was flushed down the toilet, with the then-recent Voyageur (1994) dwelling in discounter Hell for being the luxury aquatic nobody asked for while bottles of this and it's also then-recent flanker Patou pour Homme Privé (1994) quickly being snapped up by those same people who ogled it decades before. Like with the discontinued Gucci masculines a decade later, scarcity and price soared as hype spread. Claptrap by the "haves" echoed by the wishful "have nots" hoping for a taste of precious nectar turned Patou pour Homme into the blood of the lamb, but nothing can ever objectively be the greatest fragrance ever made. It's true we won't see materials like these in commercial perfume ever again, since Humanity has over-harvested Mysore sandalwood to near-extinction and oakmoss is heavily regulated, plus designers want to minimize cost while maximizing profit regardless of price tag, which excludes using costlier naturals. You've got to enjoy these "brown" sort of fragrances, full of dirty amber, spice, woods and mosses to really appreciate Patou pour Homme beyond the hype. Otherwise, this is a $1000+ collectable trophy that like a Spirit of Dubai or Roja Haute Luxe perfume, you'll be too scared to waste. I like Patou pour Homme but part of me thinks "Is this it?" after choking on years and years of community hype, plus when something is this scarce, I'd rather let the dead rest. It was a privilege to finally experience, though. Thumbs up
27th December, 2020

Fragrance One : Unisex for Everybody by Jeremy Fragrance

Fragrance One: Unisex for Everybody (2020) comes across like an expensive joke being played on the rabid fanbase of Jeremy Fragrance. For starters, this plainly states that it is for everyone, twice. Then, the scent goes on to be literally just a retread of Fragrance One: Date for Men (2019) without the false pretense of oud, swapping in some DNA from Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 (2015) to justify the "unisex" portion. Primarily, this is for the numbskull "muh compliments bruh" demographic of "fragbros" that want to weaponize fragrance as Human equivalent of peacock feathers anyway, so I highly doubt any self-respecting lady is going to touch it. Really, this should have just been called Date for Men Two: Electic Dateloo, and boy has reviewing this scent been a tiresome exercise. If a single fragrance in the line managed to be half as exciting as the personality of the brand owner, we might actually have something fun to wear here, instead of terribly rote cocktails of "successful DNAs" lifted from JF's favorite commercial fragrances in his own personal wardrobe. I'm trying to be nice here, I really am, it's just a huge test of patience with this stuff.

The opening is a fruity ethyl maltol mess with some token JF bergamot pop carried over from the previous two male market releases, with some beta and alpha ionones to mix fruity woody tones and a touch of powder. If I had to give the fruit a name, I'd say it's closest to pear. Cinnamon breaks ties with the comparisons to Jean-Paul Gaultier Ultra Mâle (2015) and moves us into the "Baccarat Rouge phase" of the base, with no real middle transition to speak of. Elemi resin is the only listed base note, but the reality is you're getting cashmeran, musks, the usual back-of-box ingredients fixatives, and some of that psuedo-saffron BR540 nondescript thickness that is a bit dustier than the real deal, but blends with the cinnamon and fruitiness of the top to remain warm. All told this wears fairly well if boring, and isn't quite as sweet as the Gaultier nor disappears on skin like the MFK, so I guess in theory it is an improvement. Extrait de parfum concentration assures longevity, and unlike the notorious Fragrance One: Office for Men (2019), you won't asphyxiate anyone with your projection. Best use is in fall through sprng in evenings.

Unisex for Everybody has the same psychopathic commitment to getting compliments as the previous mens fragrances, and really doesn't actually work much as a unisex fragrance at all because there's nothing here that really feels like a compromise to make it work for women too. No discernable fruity florals besides the brief poof in the opening, no real gourmand tones, no rose or patchouli, nothing in the modern commercial bag of tricks for marketing women's fragrance mixed with stereotypical "men's cologne" DNA that becomes the two-headed hydra most perfume houses tapping the kind of market Jeremy does tend to present as their own takes on "unisex". In short, this feels like it was labelled unisex merely for appeasement and nothing else, which when factored in with the bare-bones Fragrance One packaging and $160 price for 50ml, means you're left wondering if this isn't instead just the new "entry level" for guys replacing Office for Men with fake gender neutrality for cheap brownie points. In any case test first (or buy a sampler) before going in, unless you've already sacrificed your first born in fealty to the man himself. Neutral
22nd December, 2020

Thirty-three by Ex Idolo

Ex Idolo is another UK luxury niche upstart (why is Britain so full of these I don't know), that wraps a bit of artisanal market copy around the experience of "the rarest ingredients within sympathetic composition" and "quality versus quantity" with perfumes made "under a deliberate ethos". I'll let you decipher what that means (if you deem it means anything), and get right to the skinny on Thirty-Three (2013). This is an indie rose/oud perfume, and you've mostly smelled this before if you've smelled any rose oud combinations made in the decade or so preceding it. If not, you can expect a dark rose coupled with a semi-animalic oud rounded by patchouli and orris. Thirty-Three smells slotted between the more-medicinal Black Aoud by Montale (2006) and the full animal ass that is Oudh Infini by Parfums Dusita (2015). Rose oud perfumes are such a worn out subject in the world of niche and luxury perfumes that even by 2013 Thirty-Three was released to a cacophony of tired yawns and moans of derision, but it's nice if you can ignore the ridiculous market copy. Chinese oud from 1980? I don't know. Chinese rose? Is that even a thing? Artisanal hand-crafted batches? Well, this perfume has been out since 2013 and still from what I can tell smells the same (having samples from older and newer bottle styles), so either it's a slow mover, the brand has a ton of that 1980's oud to use, or there are some white lies going on here. Either way, divest yourself of any hopes this is going to be Areej le Dore minus the gatekeepers and scalping.

Thirty-Three opens with dark rose, pepper, and a bit of mandarin orange, but you're immediately slammed with the oud note. In a similar turn to Black Aoud, the oud note binds itself wholly to the rose and you pretty much just smell "oudrose" for the rest of the wear, the key difference between the two being the ambergris-like chlorinated animalic aspects of a dirtier oud in Thirty-Three informing the wear. People who think Black Aoud is a little too tame will enjoy this aspect, but everyone else will wrinkle their nose, while the rest of the claimed notes in the composition, from the so-called caoutchou to the Chinese tea all just fall away and dissipate in this main accord. Slowly the terpines of the patchouli add hints of green, and the "Damascus steel" note of flinty metallic sheen come in to add some spike to the "oudrose", but it's not enough to steer away from the course. I'm not enough of an artisanal perfume snob to have my delicate sensibilities hurt by the cognitive dissonance between the market copy and the perfume itself, but I admit the overall ham-fisted feel of Thirty-Three gets boring after a while since it's just that "oudrose" accord from beginning to end, in a front-loaded way similar to a Tom Ford Private Blend. Thirty-Three is one of those eternal perfumes you'll need to scrub off, so performance isn't an issue. Also, the oud slowly overtakes the rose the further along the wear you go. Best use is wherever, because as can be expected, this one is a head-turner, and most likely easier to handle in colder climes or times of year unless you live particularly dangerously. Also I think Thirty-Three is unisex.

Now, I believe that Mathew Zhuk has done nice work here. This is the first fragrance from Ex Idolo and I'm assuming this is his first work too, so merit where merit is due, as this is a very well-conceived if Johnny-come-lately into the rose/oud scene, stretched over a basic chypre framework thanks to the patchouli. Passion projects being what they are, I can smell the heart and soul poured into Thirty-Three, and am really only at odds with the presentation of the house being yet another droll exercise in British luxury perfume pomp when it's really just an indie perfumer from the UK. Maybe Zhuk felt the need to borrow the exotic rare ingredients claptrap from other UK luxury perfume houses such as Fragrance du Bois or Roja Dove in order to fairly compete in this market segment, and whatever ingredients are in Thirty-Three, they are quality (at least to my nose), but all of this combined with the fact that he chose a rose/oud combo as his first release for the house just makes this a tired exercise. At a price of $120 for 30ml, this isn't the most expensive rose oud niche perfume you could buy, but certainly not the cheapest either, at a trade-off of one-third the juice for the same price of Montale Black Aoud in exchange for a little more animal vigor in the oud component. In such a prolific genre within the niche perfume world, Thirty-Three is one option among many, but in every category except complexity and marketing, is worthy of a sniff if you're a fan of the subject matter. Thumbs up
21st December, 2020